Overcoming misperceptions to increase the impact of individual climate action

Name of applicant

Kristian Steensen Nielsen


Postdoctoral Fellow


University of Cambridge


DKK 1,466,950



Type of grant

Reintegration Fellowships


Many people express serious concern about climate change and have consequently made or are motivated to make behavioral changes to help limit the problem. Unfortunately, research shows that people widely misperceive which behavioral changes most effectively reduce their climate footprint. For example, people often overestimate the climate benefits of behaviors like recycling, shutting off the lights, and avoiding plastic packaging. Conversely, they often underestimate the climate footprint of red meat consumption, air travel, and heating and cooling in homes, which are among the consumer behaviors with the highest footprint. My project will investigate the origins and prevalence of misperceptions behaviors' climate footprint, and the potential behavioral and psychological effects of correcting them.


Climate footprint misperceptions are problematic for several reasons. First, misperceptions may imply that people’s well-meaning efforts to change behavior do not produce the anticipated climate benefits. Second, the prevalence of misperceptions implies an underutilization of behavior change as a climate change mitigation strategy and of the social processes that can help diffuse behavioral changes across population segments. Third, misperceptions may distort people’s policy preferences and inflate the risk of pursuing climate solutions within communities, organizations, and corporations that ultimately prove ineffective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.


My project involves a two-part research program. First, I will examine (i) the accuracy of people’s perceptions of behaviors’ climate footprint, and (ii) the characteristics of these behaviors (e.g., the difficulty of performance, visibility of climate impact, media coverage, social norms) and whether they predict (mis)perceptions of climate footprints. These research objectives will be investigated through a representative survey in Denmark. Second, I will investigate the behavioral and psychological effects of correcting misperceptions over time. This will be achieved through an online survey experiment aiming to provide accurate information on behaviors’ climate footprint and then monitor its temporal effects via a follow-up survey. The surveys will be conducted in Denmark and use state-of-the-art methodological and open-science practices.

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