Research Papers: Gale M. Sinatra

Educational and Developmental Psychologists Take Action in Response to the Climate Crisis

By Gale M. Sinatra

Educational and Developmental Psychologist


The climate crisis is the defining issue of our time. Educational and developmental psychologists can make clear and important contributions to addressing this existential threat. The articles in the Climate Crisis Special Issue take on the issue of climate change from multiple angles, with varied populations, using different research methods and theoretical frameworks. The special issue makes clear the important role psychologists have to play in addressing the climate crisis.

Supporting Climate Change Understanding with Novel Data Estimation Instruction, and Epistemic Prompts

By Gale M. Sinatra

Journal of Educational Psychology


Texts presenting novel numerical data can shift learners’ attitudes and conceptions about controversial science topics. However, little is known about the mechanisms underlying this conceptual change. The purpose of this study was to investigate two potential mechanisms that underlie learning from novel data: numerical estimation skills and epistemic cognition. This research investigated combinations of two treatments—a numerical estimation and epistemic cognition intervention—that were designed to enhance people’s ability to make sense of key numbers about climate change when integrated into an existing intervention. Results indicated that undergraduate students (N = 516) who engaged with climate change data held fewer misconceptions compared with a group that read an expository text, though their judgments of climate change plausibility were similar. Results also showed that the two modifications to the central intervention did not have statistically significant effects on knowledge or plausibility when compared with the unmodified intervention. However, we found that individuals’ openness to reason with and integrate new evidence significantly moderated the knowledge effects of the intervention when the intervention was supplemented with both modifications. These findings provide emerging evidence that, among those who are open to reason with new evidence, supporting mathematical reasoning skills and reflection on discrepant information can enhance conceptual change in science.

Public Understanding of Science: Policy and Educational Implications

By Gale M. Sinatra, Barbara K. Hofer

Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences


The need for public understanding of science is especially critical in today’s society when citizens frequently confront complex, conflicting information on challenging topics. This article presents research on challenges for public understanding of science: In addition to increased scientific literacy (knowledge), people may need to shift epistemic cognition (beliefs about the nature of knowledge) and epistemic trust (beliefs about source credibility) to accept scientific perspectives. The article suggests how educators, media specialists, and scientists who communicate about their work might help address these challenges. Educational implications include (a) teach scientific processes, (b) teach for deeper understanding, (c) promote epistemic cognition, and (d) use instructional scaffolds. Policy recommendations include (a) fund educational research on thinking, (b) emphasize how to think over what to think, (c) support malleable psychological skills and dispositions, (d) avoid presenting “balanced perspectives” when there is scientific consensus, and (e) demand more rigorous teacher preparation standards. All these develop an informed citizenry.

Plausibility Reappraisals and Shifts in Middle School Students’ Climate Change Conceptions

By Doug Lombardi, Gale M.Sinatra, E. Michael Nussbaum

Learning and Instruction, 27


Plausibility is a central but under-examined topic in conceptual change research. Climate change is an important socio-scientific topic; however, many view human-induced climate change as implausible. When learning about climate change, students need to make plausibility judgments but they may not be sufficiently critical or reflective. The purpose of this study was to examine how students’ plausibility judgments and knowledge about human-induced climate change transform during instruction promoting critical evaluation. The results revealed that treatment group participants who engaged in critical evaluation experienced a significant shift in their plausibility judgments toward the scientifically accepted model of human-induced climate change. This shift was accompanied by significant conceptual change postinstruction that was maintained after a six-month delay. A comparison group who experienced a climate change activity that is part of their normal curriculum did not experience statistically significant changes.

Promoting Attitude Change and Expressed Willingness to Take Action toward Climate Change in College Students

By Gale M. Sinatra, CarolAnne M. Kardash, Gita Taasoobshirazi, Doug Lombardi

Springer Science+Business Media


This study examined the relationship among cognitive and motivational variables impacting college students’ willingness to take mitigative action to reduce the impacts of human-induced climate change. One hundred and forty college students were asked to read a persuasive text about human-induced climate change and were pre and post tested on their attitudes about climate change and their willingness to take action to mitigate its effects. Students showed statistically significant changes in their attitudes about climate change and their willingness to commit to take action. A path model demonstrated that openness to change and a willingness to think deeply about issues predicted both change in attitudes and expressed willingness to take action. This research demonstrates that a persuasive text has the potential to promote change around complex socio-scientific issues.

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