Experiencing record-breaking heat days affects perception of weather trends

New research from Penn’s Annenberg Public Policy Center finds that for residents in areas with record-breaking heat, the perception that the weather is getting hotter increases.

New research published by a team at the Annenberg Public Policy Center finds that experiencing days in which the temperature exceeds previous highs for that time of year affects people’s perception of weather trends.

Published in Scientific Reports, the study “Record-breaking Heat Days Disproportionately Influence Heat Perceptions” finds that living in an area with record-breaking heat effectively increases perceptions that the weather is getting hotter.

Dolores Albarracin and Timothy Hyde.
Dolores Albarracín, Alexandra Heyman Nash University Professor (left), and APPC postdoctoral fellow Timothy Hyde. (Images: Courtesy of Annenberg Public Policy Center)

The research is co-authored by economist Timothy Hyde, a postdoctoral fellow in APPC’s Science of Science Communication Division, and psychologist and communication scholar Dolores Albarracín, the Alexandra Heyman Nash University Professor at Penn, a Penn Integrates Knowledge University Professor, and director of the Science of Science Communication Division.

The authors surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,605 U.S. adults to determine whether more frequent record-breaking weather events affect weather change perceptions. The participants were asked, “To the best of your knowledge, how did excessive daytime heat across the United States in 2022 compare with previous years?”

Hyde and Albarracín linked answers to this question with meteorological data collected by the National Climatic Data Center from 1949, when meteorologists first implemented a reliable record of climatic data, to 2022. Doing so allowed the researchers to determine which days in 2022 constituted a heat record in a particular area before correlating heat recordings with perceptions that temperatures were higher relative to previous years.

The study finds that while record-breaking heat days have little or no effect on beliefs in the existence of climate change, they do affect evaluations of how much hotter the weather has become compared to previous years. This effect of record-heat days is such that the difference in answers between a respondent who experienced no record-breaking heat days and another who experienced 16 record-breaking heat days is as large as the average difference in responses between independent and Democratic respondents.

Read more at Annenberg Public Policy Center.