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Does Knowledge about Climate Change Predict Concern? Concern for Climate Change and the Knowledge-Deficit Theory

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Version 1 2021-11-12, 02:15
posted on 2023-03-14, 23:29 authored by Cornforth, Alana

The knowledge-deficit theory suggests that if people are not concerned about climate change, it is because there is a deficit in their knowledge of climate change—they do not properly comprehend the scientific consensus. So do people with higher levels of knowledge about climate change feel more concerned than those with lower knowledge levels? Existing research has been inconclusive but suggests differences between perceived and actual knowledge. This thesis comprises two studies. Study 1 tests the effect of perceived knowledge on concern for climate change with a nationally representative, randomly selected sample of 269 New Zealanders. Study 2 tests the effect of actual knowledge about climate change on concern with a sample of 452 New Zealanders recruited via snowball sampling. Results supported the knowledge-deficit theory for concern for climate change, but only when actual knowledge was tested. Participants in both Study 1 and Study 2 with high perceived knowledge did not have correspondingly high levels of concern, but Study 2 participants with high actual knowledge of climate change did also have high levels of concern. Other variables tested that consistently predicted high concern for climate change were perceived efficacy (the perception that one's actions will influence group outcomes) and environmental values. Demographic variables were not strong or consistent predictors of concern, but overall, younger female participants tended to display higher levels of concern than older male participants.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Environmental Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Environmental Studies

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Wallace, Cath; Milfont, Taciano