Rutgers follow-up study shows Sandy's psychological effects

Posted: September 21, 2013

Hurricanes can flood homes, tear down boardwalks, make beaches disappear.

They might also shape people's beliefs about climate change and their attitudes toward "green" policies, suggests new research from a Rutgers psychology professor.

In a pair of studies by Laurie A. Rudman, a psychology professor at the New Brunswick campus, students were asked their opinions of climate change and asked whether they would vote for a fictional "green" politician over one who opposed policies such as raising fuel costs.

Rudman and her coauthors also measured the students' "implicit support" for those politicians, using tests that in the past have measured unconscious racial and gender biases.

The 2010 study was never intended to have a follow-up; the data were collected from 269 students, who on average said they would support the green politician.

But they didn't.

Instead, their inner emotional response - the "implicit support" that may be consciously hidden or go unrecognized by the student - favored the nongreen politician. And asked whether they would sign a pro-green petition, Rudman said, the students chose not to.

When Sandy hit the region last year, Rudman realized she had an opportunity to examine how emotional responses and conscious beliefs may have changed.

"School was closed for a week, but it took a few days before it really dawned on me that I can stop thinking about my own behind and start thinking about how this might be a really interesting study," Rudman said in an interview Thursday, when the research was published online by Psychological Science, the journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The article is set to be published in a forthcoming issue.

Using a new set of 318 Rutgers students in the days just after Sandy, Rudman ran the study again, adding measures of how personally affected students were by Sandy and, before that, Hurricane Irene.

These students also said they would vote for the green politician, and that they believed climate change was influenced by humans. And this time, they meant it.

"They increased their reliance on their gut feelings when they went to vote," Rudman said. Those feelings were consistent with their expressed beliefs.

Contact Jonathan Lai at 856-779-3220,, or on Twitter @elaijuh.

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