Drought Exposure and Accuracy: Motivated Reasoning in Climate Change Beliefs

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The lack of stringent policies to avert climate change has increased the importance of effective and timely adaptation. Adequate adaptation is particularly important for agricultural communities in developing countries, which may most suffer the consequences of climate change. Evidence is still scarce on how people in the most vulnerable areas form climate change beliefs and whether such beliefs exhibit cognitive biases. Using survey data from rural households in Bangladesh together with a meteorological measure of excess dryness relative to historical averages, I study the effect of long-term average drought exposure and short-term deviations on beliefs about drought frequency and the interpretation of drought events. To explore how individuals interpret past droughts, I use an instrumental variable approach and investigate whether individual beliefs lead to asymmetric distortion of objective information. The results show that individuals recollect and overweight evidence tilted towards their prior beliefs, providing evidence of confirmation bias as a directional motivated reasoning mechanism. The findings highlight the need for models that account for behavioral factors and cognitive biases in the study of climate change beliefs for effective communication and adaptation policies.




Zappalà, G. (2023). Drought Exposure and Accuracy: Motivated Reasoning in Climate Change Beliefs. Environmental and Resource Economics, 85(3–4), 649–672. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10640-023-00779-1

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