Southeastern Section - 67th Annual Meeting - 2018

Paper No. 10-5
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-12:00 PM


LINTON, Whitney and FORCINO, Frank L., Geosciences and Natural Resources Department, Western Carolina University, 331 Stillwell Building, Cullowhee, NC 28723

A large proportion of high school students possess misconceptions about the process of photosynthesis, nutrient acquisition, and carbon sequestration. Misconceptions of these processes are not stemming from a lack of classroom instruction but instead from imprecise explanations of the concepts. Imprecise language used by science teachers and textbooks while teaching these processes may be particularly harmful to a student’s understanding of the topic. Due to the significance plant processes play in the carbon cycle, the use of imprecise language from one topic could impact a person’s understanding of closely related topics, such as climate change. Because of the importance of mitigating human-caused climate change to our society, researchers must explore all possible influences on the misinformation about climate change that is rampant among the American public. Here, we investigate the general public’s proclivity to personify plants and plant processes and compare that to their acceptance of climate change.

Using Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk), we surveyed 183 participants using 24 likert-type statements about personifying plants and 8 likert-type statements about climate change. MTurk is an online crowdsourcing website wherein registered workers complete tasks for pay. The population of MTurk workers is more diverse than that of a typical university.

Using an average of all statements agreed with to calculate a total plant personification score (TPPS), 55% of participants agreed with statements of plant personification. On the item “Plants eat food”, 64% selected, “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree”. Linear modeling revealed no significant relationships between TPPS and demographics (e.g., gender, income). On the item “Global climate change is happening”, 7% selected, “strongly disagree” or “somewhat disagree”. On the item “The recent rapid warming of Earth’s atmospheres and oceans is only a result of natural climate cycles”, 65% selected, “strongly disagree” or “somewhat disagree”. There was no statistically significant relationship between the TPPS and climate change acceptance questions. Thus, a person’s likelihood to incorrectly personify carbon processes related to photosynthesis and plants does not influence their acceptance of climate change.