Messages about the urgency of climate change that depict harms to people in other countries, or even just other parts of the same country, often backfire, says a new study. Researchers discovered that "motivated reasoning,” the kind that reinforces your pre-existing beliefs, kicks in when viewers are confronted with tales of doom and gloom. Then a cognitive shortcut — namely, “how much is this person like me?” — tells the viewer how much they should care about a given harm.
Basically, when confronted with information that runs counter to our foundational beliefs (e.g., fossil fuels are good and the EPA is a “job killing organization”) viewers tend to use their xenophobia to short-circuit their ability to follow logically to the most reasonable conclusions ("Maybe we should do something about all these carbon emissions!").