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Public Underst Sci. 2018 Nov;27(8):985-1002. doi: 10.1177/0963662518801170. Epub 2018 Sep 26.

Climate change, cultural cognition, and media effects: Worldviews drive news selectivity, biased processing, and polarized attitudes.

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University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.
The Ohio State University, USA.
Northeastern University, USA.


According to cultural cognition theory, individuals hold opinions about politically contested issues like climate change that are consistent with their "cultural way of life," conforming their opinions to how they think society should be organized and to what they perceive are the attitudes of their cultural peers. Yet despite dozens of cultural cognition studies, none have directly examined the role of the news media in facilitating these differential interpretations. To address this gap, drawing on a national survey of US adults administered in 2015, we statistically modeled the cultural cognition process in relation to news choices and media effects on public attitudes about climate change. Individuals possessing strongly held cultural worldviews, our findings show, not only choose news outlets where they expect to find culturally congruent arguments about climate change, but they also selectively process the arguments they encounter. Overall, our study demonstrates the substantial role that cultural cognition in combination with news media choices play in contributing to opinion polarization on climate change and other politicized science topics.


climate change; cultural cognition; partisan media; public opinion


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