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Bayesian versus politically motivated reasoning in human perception of climate anomalies

Ripberger, Joseph T.
Jenkins-Smith, Hank C.
Silva, Carol L.
Carlson, Deven E.
Gupta, Kuhika
Carlson, Nina
Dunlap, Riley E.
In complex systems where humans and nature interact to produce joint outcomes, mitigation, adaptation, and resilience require that humans perceive feedback-signals of health and distress-from natural systems. In many instances, humans readily perceive feedback. In others, feedback is more difficult to perceive, so humans rely on experts, heuristics, biases, and/or identify confirming rationalities that may distort perceptions of feedback. This study explores human perception of feedback from natural systems by testing alternate conceptions about how individuals perceive climate anomalies, a form of feedback from the climate system. Results indicate that individuals generally perceive climate anomalies, especially when the anomalies are relatively extreme and persistent. Moreover, this finding is largely robust to political differences that generate predictable but small biases in feedback perception at extreme ends of the partisan spectrum. The subtlety of these biases bodes well for mitigation, adaptation, and resilience as human systems continue to interact with a changing climate system.