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PPE Talk: Cass Sunstein

March 26 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm

How Good Looking Are You? Brains, Optimism, and Climate Change 

People are frequently exposed to competing evidence about climate change. We examined how new information alters people’s beliefs. We find that people who doubt that man-made climate change is occurring, and who do not favor an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, show a form of asymmetrical updating: They change their beliefs in response to unexpected good news (suggesting that average temperature rise is likely to be less than previously thought) and fail to change their beliefs in response to unexpected bad news (suggesting that average temperature rise is likely to be greater than previously thought). By contrast, people who strongly believe that man-made climate change is occurring, and who favor an international agreement, show the opposite asymmetry: They change their beliefs far more in response to unexpected bad news (suggesting that average temperature rise is likely to be greater than previously thought) than in response to unexpected good news (suggesting that average temperature rise is likely to be smaller than previously thought). The results suggest that exposure to varied scientific evidence about climate change may increase polarization within a population due to asymmetrical updating. We explore the implications of our findings for how people will update their beliefs upon receiving new evidence about climate change, and also for other beliefs relevant to politics and law.


Cass Sunstein is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard. Sunstein served as the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs from 2009-2012.  He is the author of numerous books, including Risk and Reason (2002), Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (with Richard H. Thaler, 2008), Simpler: The Future of Government (2013) and Why Nudge? (2014).


March 26
6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
Event Category:


Katie Bunyea
(919) 843-5640