Exploratory Study of the Relationship Between Students’ Mental Models of Climate Change and Their Environmentally Sustainable Decisions and Behavior

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

Education is often proposed as an effective means for bringing about changes in environmental behaviors. In this study, we seek to test out the conjecture that change toward environmentally sustainable behavior requires not just inculcating a set of facts and behaviors. Rather, it requires a shift in belief, a change of personal theory as to the causes of climate change and how human behavior impacts it.


Our first population of interest is undergraduate students at Stanford University. Our second and third populations of interest are middle and high school students attending public (including charter) schools in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Research Design: 

This is a comparative project designed to generate associative or correlational evidence. Original data are collected through survey research [on-line questionnaires, semi-structured interviews].

We have developed a tool for measuring students’ schematic understanding of climate change, including their alternate and incomplete conceptions. We created expert concept maps to represent the knowledge space we are trying to measure, and used the maps to develop multiple-choice questions that measure students’ understanding of three key climate change concepts: biological processes and greenhouse gases, humans and energy consumption, and natural feedback loops. We will correlate these findings with demographic information and Likert-scale measures of behavioral intentions and attitudes towards climate change. We will use statistical methods (ANOVA, multiple regression, factor analysis, psychometrics) to analyze the data.


Results will be available within a year. As this is an exploratory study, the results will be of more immediate interest to researchers than practitioners or policymakers.

Publications & Presentations: 

There are no project publications at this time.