Study finds ‘global warming’ elicits stronger reactions than ‘climate change’ among Americans

BY Justin Scuiletti  May 27, 2014 at 2:20 PM EDT
Graph by Yale Project on Climate Change Communication

Graph by Yale Project on Climate Change Communication

“Climate change” and “global warming” are often treated synonymously, but a new study says that the terms aren’t as interchangeable as one might think when it comes to public perception.

Yale University, in their research released Tuesday, found that “global warming” and “climate change” elicited different reactions among Americans, with “global warming” triggering stronger negative connotations than its counterpart. In addition, the studies listed in the report found that “global warming” was used more frequently as a search term, was more likely to be heard and used in discourse, and was more engaging of a term than “climate change.”

The website for the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication describes that “global warming” was more often “associated with greater public understanding, emotional engagement, and support for personal and national action.” When “global warming” was used, researchers found that the term was associated with greater certainty that changes were happening, greater understanding that humans were the primary cause, and more of a willingness to campaign to convince elected officials to take action — among other responses.

The report notes, however, that connotations are dynamic and can rapidly change, meaning “climate change” may one day elicit the same reactions as they found “global warming” had.