Scientific Study Proves That the "Greta Thunberg Effect" Is Real

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Jan. 28 2021, Published 4:26 p.m. ET

Greta Thunberg
Source: Getty Images

18-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg’s impact on the world over the past few years has been undeniable — but now, it’s scientifically proven.

A new study, recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, found that the “Greta Thunberg effect” has caused more people in the U.S. to get involved in climate action.

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“We find that those who are more familiar with Greta Thunberg have higher intentions of taking collective actions to reduce global warming and that stronger collective efficacy beliefs mediate this relations,” write the study’s authors, who hail from schools including the University of Cambridge and Yale University. 

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Basically, the researchers found a strong association between knowing who Greta Thunberg is, holding collective efficacy beliefs (beliefs that a group you are part of will be able to organize effectively), and actually having the intention to actually take collective action.

For the study, the team conducted a “nationally representative” survey of 1,303 U.S. adults, 1,114 of whom were registered voters (515 Democrats, 107 Independents, 441 Republicans). 70 percent of the sample was white, 13 percent was Hispanic, and 10 percent was Black.

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The researchers asked respondents to rank a few topics on Likert scales, such as: how familiar they were with Greta Thunberg, their political ideology, how likely they felt private citizens could impact governments and businesses to change, and how much they support climate activists.

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In the end, they found that being familiar with Greta Thunberg “positively predicted collective action intentions” among all the demographics surveyed, including age. The authors believe that indicates that Thunberg can inspire collective action among individuals of all ages, not just her fellow Gen Zers.

The researchers found this correlation to be stronger among liberals, but interestingly, it was also present among conservatives. They believe this means that “Greta Thunberg's calls to action could motivate public action across the political spectrum.”

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All of this falls under the umbrella of the Greta Thunberg effect — seeing someone so young be so outspoken about the climate crisis, sail a boat across the ocean to avoid polluting air travel, make incredible speeches in front of world leaders, and so much more helps teach people of all ages and backgrounds that individuals really do hold the power to make an impact.

Hillary Clinton applauded Greta Thunberg and the study on Twitter.

Even though the study was published in December 2020, it got a boost on Jan. 28. 2021, when Hillary Clinton shared it on Twitter. “Data proving Greta Thunberg right — ‘you are never too small to make a difference,’” Clinton tweeted alongside the study. That quote was originally said by the Thunberg, and later became the title of her book.

The Greta Thunberg effect is real.

Basically, if you want your friends to start going to climate protests with you, encourage them to get familiar with Thunberg — suggest they follow her on social media, read her book, watch the documentary I Am Greta, or check out a video of one of her speeches.

There are also many other incredible young climate activists who organize climate action, many of whom are following in Thunberg’s footsteps, but also forging their own paths and inspiring many others to do the same.

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