Comparing the atmosphere to a bathtub: Effectiveness of analogy for reasoning about accumulation

Sophie Guy, Yoshihisa Kashima, Iain WALKER, Saffron O'Neill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding the process of accumulation is fundamental to recognising the magnitude and speed of emissions reduction required to stabilise atmospheric CO2 and, hence, global temperature. This research investigated the effectiveness of analogy for building understanding of accumulation among non-experts. Two studies tested the effects of analogy and graphical information on: (1) performance on a CO2 stabilisation task; and (2) preferred level of action on climate change. Study 1 was conducted with a sample of undergraduate students and Study 2, with a sample of the Australian public. In the student sample, analogical processing significantly improved task performance when information about emission rates was presented in text but not when it was presented in graph format. It was also associated with greater preference for strong action on climate change. When tested with the public, analogy and information format independently influenced task performance. Furthermore, there was a marginal effect of education such that the analogy especially might have helped those with at least high school attainment. Our results show that analogy can improve non-experts’ understanding of CO2 accumulation but that using graphs to convey emissions rate information is detrimental to such improvements. The results should be of interest to climate change communicators, advocates, and policy-makers
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)579-594
Number of pages16
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


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