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Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab

Department of Psychology

Studying at Cambridge

Gateway Belief Model (GBM)

The Gateway Belief Model (GBM) is a social-psychological theory of how public attitudes, opinions, and judgments are formed on fundamental societal issues such as climate change, vaccines, and gun violence (van der Linden et al., 2015; van der Linden, Clarke, & Maibach, 2015; van der Linden & Maibach, 2016).

The model itself delineates a two-step sequential process of opinion formation and change. It is premised on the idea that people navigate the world by playing close attention to consensus cues. Consensus describes the level of agreement within a group, such as friends and peers, but also experts and scientists. Public perception of the degree of normative agreement within a group serves as a judgment cue that informs an individual's own cognitive beliefs about an issue (e.g., that humans are causing global warming), as well as affective dispositions, such as how much people worry about risks. These key personal beliefs, in turn, determine public support for policy. 

The model itself is based on a large number of prior studies and derived from a correlational structure linking public perceptions of scientific agreement to public policy support (e.g., see Ding et al., 2011; Lewandowsky et al., 2012).

Norm debiasing

A large amount of research in social psychology has shown that misperceiving what the social norm is in a given situation can be consequential. For example, students often have inaccurate perceptions about the degree of alcohol consumption among their peers, this relative bias in social perception may then lead to excessive alcohol consumption. Studies have shown that correcting people's perception of the norm -by highlighting the actual norm- can have positive consequences on behavior. While excessive binge drinking is often harmful to the individual, large-scale societal misperceptions of scientific agreement on social dilemma's such as climate change or vaccines can be collectively harmful.

In a similar manner, the "gateway" belief mechanism specifically refers to closing what is called the "consensus-gap" (Cook & Jacobs, 2014). There is a sharp divergence between scientific norms on issues such as climate change, vaccines, GMO's, and gun violence, and public perception of the scientific norm. Our model has shown that closing this gap by highlighting expert consensus can reduce or perceptual biases. This change in perceptions of the norm, then influences personal beliefs that people hold (cognitive and affective), which in turn influences public support for societal issues. The model describes a process of normative belief formation.

For an overview of current issues and approaches, I suggest reading Cook & Lewandowsky (2016) and Dixon (2017).