Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"Neuroframing" the global warming issue won't win converts

Last week the Garrison Institute, a retreat center just a few miles down the Hudson River from my home, hosted an impressive symposium on “Climate, Mind and Behavior.” An organizer made the mistake of inviting me to the meeting’s wrap-up session Friday.
As a brochure put it, the symposium brought together 75 “thought leaders and practitioners from the fields of neuro, behavioral and evolutionary economics, psychology, policy, investing and social media to explore how to integrate emerging knowledge on the key drivers of behavior into solutions for solving the world’s most pressing problem: climate change.”
Basically, this was a brainstorming session on how to market “solutions” to global warming more effectively. The emphasis on packaging reminded me of the controversial proposal by journalist Chris Mooney and communication professor Matt Nisbet of American University that scientists need to become more adept at “framing” issues such as global warming to win the debate. The Garrison meeting explored whether neuroscience and other fields that probe the physiological underpinnings of human belief and behavior can help environmentalists frame issues more persuasively. Let’s call it “neuroframing.”

John Gowdy, an economist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, noted that “neuroeconomics” is challenging the conventional economics view of humans as “utility maximizers” who make choices based on self-interest and reason. MRI scans show that we assess risks and rewards with brain regions that underpin fear, suspicion, empathy and other emotions, Gowdy explained, and we make choices very differently depending on how they are framed.
The psychiatrist Daniel Siegel of UCLA proposed that we all possess two innate, brain-based “maps” for responding to the world. One is a “me-map” that underpins our obsession with our own interests, but we also have a “we-map” corresponding to our concern for others.
The implications of these presentations were spelled out over lunch for me and other journalists (including Scientific American’s David Biello) by Jonathan Rose, founder of the Garrison Institute and the meeting’s chief sponsor and organizer. Environmentalists must frame issues to appeal to peoples’ “we-maps,” asserted Rose, a green New York real-estate mogul. Read more.

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