The recent Journal of Environmental Psychology article "Climate of silence: Pluralistic ignorance as a barrier to climate change discussion" by Nathaniel Geiger (graduate student, social psychology) and Professor of Psychology Janet Swim was featured in an article by The Washington Post.
In a nutshell, Geiger and Swim find that people are often afraid to talk about climate change with their peers because they wrongly think those peers are more doubtful about climate change than they actually are. This incorrect perception — which the authors dub “pluralistic ignorance” — then makes people fear that others will think they’re less competent, and thus, view them with less respect, if they bring up the subject or talk about it.
And then, that cascades and suppresses interpersonal conversations that might otherwise help put the issue more on the agenda. “There potentially can be this kind of spiral, where people are silent because they don’t know what other people think and people don’t know what other people think because nobody’s talking about it,” says Geiger, a PhD student in the Psychology Department at Penn State.