If you want to make the world a better place and believe that persuasion might help, please consider this succinct recommendation (pdf).

This memo describes five “best practice” insights from psychological science to help improve public decision making about climate change. We argue that climate change has traditionally been framed as an analytical, temporally and spatially distant risk that represents an (uncertain) future loss for society. Yet, psychological research suggests that in order to improve public engagement with the issue, policymakers should emphasize climate change as an experiential, local and present risk; define and leverage relevant social group norms; highlight the tangible gains associated with immediate action; and last, but certainly not least, appeal to long-term motivators of pro-environmental behavior and decision making.

While seeming topic specific to climate change, the persuasion analysis is general. On any public TACT where you seek to change the thinking, feeling, and behavior of society, the recommendations would apply. The climate change specific helps illuminate how you can both fail and succeed with persuasion.

Note the analysis begins with the current persuasion and the emphasis upon science that predicts with uncertainty a potential large and distant risk to society. No one with even a passing familiarity with the climate change wars doubts the failure of this persisting persuasion failure. In its way, the observation rhymes with my dynamic tension between the Falling Apples of science versus the Fallen Apple of persuasion. If indeed the science of climate change possessed Falling Apples, the climate harms would be obvious to large majorities in society. Since most Other Guys aren’t getting hit in the head with those falling apples, they discount, dispute, and disregard the science.

Now pivot to the concise persuasion recommendations the authors offer as an alternative.

1. policymakers should emphasize climate change as an experiential, local and present risk.

2. define and leverage relevant social group norms.

3. highlight the tangible gains associated with immediate action.

4. appeal to long-term motivators of pro-environmental behavior and decision making.

In Persuasion Blog terms, I’d say: 1) the Direct Experience Persuasion Play©™®, 2) Uncle Norm, 3) immediate Consequences from operant conditioning, and 4) more Consequences with operant conditioning to build habits of thought and action.

Make the Other Guys live the experience, don’t even try to argue or discuss it. Build norms of thought and action that support the TACT. Use the Consequence function from the When-Do-Get of operant conditioning to demonstrate immediate rewards from the TACT and also to build long term habits.

This concise persuasion advice applies generally to any large scale social change. It requires no science or that foolish Authority Consensus Play. It turns on fundamental forces of human nature – trust yourself and your own experience, be sensitive to the norms of your group, follow the Consequences for immediate gains and to change habits.

Even if your aspirations fall well short of changing everyone on Planet Earth, you can still see the utility of the concise advice for smaller collections of Other Guys: your work unit, your classroom, your neighborhood. The advice is general.

Warning: You still need extensive planning, execution, monitoring, and patience. The advice is great but only when you apply it within a strategy. Further, I would also add the Three Campaigns. No matter the TACT or how large the collection of Other Guys, you will also find persuasion muggles – see the current crop of climate affirmers – who would hamper your success with their foolish Sincerity.

Sander van der Linden, Edward Maibach, and Anthony Leiserowitz. (2015). Improving Public Engagement With Climate Change: Five “Best Practice” Insights From Psychological Science, Perspectives on Psychological Science November 2015 10: 758-763.


P.S. Note that this advice appeared in print in November 2015. Observe climate affirmers since and tell me what you see. Have the Sinceres become panthers? Have the panthers Campaigned the Sinceres out of the room?