The celebritization of young activist Greta Thunberg actually did help convince some of her fans to think they should take action on the climate crisis, according to new research.
Thunberg, who was recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, rocketed to worldwide fame in 2018 when, at the age of 15, she became the leader of the Fridays for Future climate movement.
Millions of children heeded her call to march through the streets of the world's major cities. Thunberg has also admonished world leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for not doing enough to stop global warming.
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The term "Greta Thunberg effect" entered the lexicon more than a year ago in conjunction with reported declines in air and train travel even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Airline executives directly attributed their lower passenger loads to Thunberg's attempts to raise awareness about the environmental cost of flying.
But the ramifications of the "Greta effect" don’t stop there. Researchers in the United States and the United Kingdom reported last week that Thunberg's influence also spurs some individuals to want to take collective action to address the climate crisis.
Surveying a representative sample of 1,303 adults in the U.S., they found a link between familiarity with Thunberg and collective efficacy – the belief that individuals can work together to achieve a common goal. Given that collective efficacy is associated with intention to take collective action, they concluded that awareness of Thunberg and her campaign lead to a higher likelihood of engaging in collective action.
"Those who are more familiar with Greta Thunberg are more likely to have a higher intent to take collective action to reduce global warming, and this effect is explained, in part … by stronger collective efficacy beliefs," they wrote.
They also found that political leanings may influence these patterns, with liberal-minded Americans more likely to know who Thunberg is, and to plan to take part in collective action.
Age was not found to make a difference, which surprised the researchers. They had theorized that younger Americans would be more likely to follow Thunberg's philosophy – and while they did find evidence that younger age groups are more likely to believe in collective efficacy and want to take collective action, they did not find any evidence directly linking that to Thunberg.
The researchers say their study suggests that Thunberg and other young leaders could reach a wider audience by disconnecting their messages from politics.
"These findings suggest that Greta Thunberg's calls to action could motivate public action across the political spectrum," they wrote.
The study was posted Jan. 25 in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.