Beliefs about impacts matter little for attitudes on shale gas development

Darrick Evensen, Rich Stedman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Do facts lead to positive/negative views about energy development or vice versa? The answer matters crucially for policy and communication ? if perceptions of what is true (beliefs) precede feelings (attitudes), additional information could shape views on an energy technology; yet, if attitudes precede beliefs, the usefulness of communication, either for influencing beliefs or simply making the public more informed, is far less clear. A long history of social-psychological research asserts that individuals? beliefs predict their attitudes on environmental issues. Nevertheless, other theories intimate the reverse ? attitudes shape beliefs, specifically on newly emergent, controversial topics. We investigated whether attitudes (i.e., support and opposition) about the contentious issue of shale gas development stem from or lead to beliefs about development. We collected data from random-sample surveys ? of residents in the Marcellus Shale region and of a national US sample. Factor analyses and structural equation modelling lead us to question the dominant assumption that beliefs precede attitudes ? the reverse, or a recursive relationship, appears more likely. Broad values and place attachment precede attitude formation more reliably than beliefs about impacts do ? suggesting need for a larger focus in energy policy on core values and the ways in which development could foster or compromise these values.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-21
JournalEnergy Policy
Early online date28 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2017


  • shale gas
  • hydraulic fracturing
  • beliefs
  • attitudes
  • prediction
  • causality


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