Psychology – The Greta Thunberg Effect

Greta Thunberg

The idea is a simple one. Are you are familiar with Greta Thunberg? If yes, then it is very probable that you are willing to be part of collective action to address Climate Change.

It’s a fun idea.

What is fascinating is that “The Greta Thunberg Effect” is now also a serious bit of Peer-Reviewed social psychology research.


Yes indeed. Published online in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology on Jan 25, 2021 is the open-access peer-reviewed paper titled …

The Greta Thunberg Effect: Familiarity with Greta Thunberg Predicts Intentions to Engage in Climate Activism in the United States

As Explained by the Authors…

Greta Thunberg has gained international recognition in a short period of time and has become a leading voice in contemporary climate activism despite her young age and non-elite status. Her viral Fridays for Future campaign and demand for inter-generational justice have established her as an inspirational youth figure. Using nationally representative survey data of U.S. adults, this paper investigates the social groups Greta Thunberg has influenced and the psychological mechanisms by which she has mobilized collective action – what we call the “Greta Thunberg Effect.”

We find that those who are more familiar with Greta Thunberg have a stronger sense of collective efficacy – the belief that, through working together with like-minded others, they can reduce global warming – and in turn have higher intentions of taking collective actions to reduce global warming.

Perhaps surprisingly, the “Greta Thunberg Effect” was similar in magnitude across all age groups. Additionally, familiarity with Greta Thunberg raised collective action intentions for both liberals and conservatives. However, for conservatives, this effect was dependent on the presence of collective efficacy beliefs, whereas for liberals there was both a direct link between familiarity with Greta Thunberg and collective action intentions and a connection via collective efficacy beliefs.

Criticism of the Greta Thunberg Effect

Some have criticised the paper by pointing out that it does not identify cause and effect. They ask – Can it be that those with higher intentions of taking collective actions against Greenhouse Warming are more familiar Greta because they consume more media on the topic? If so, then how can it be called the “The Greta Thunberg Effect”.

The answer here is that “Effect” in this context is simply a way saying that there is a statistical relationship between the two variables. It does not say anything about causality.

Side note: In statistics, an effect size is a number measuring the strength of the relationship between two variables in a statistical population.

What are the Implications of this?

Again, let’s permit the authors of the study to advise us on that …

This study indicates that high-profile public advocates like Greta Thunberg can shape collective efficacy beliefs and motivate collective action, but their effect is likely stronger among those with a shared political ideology. It also suggests that Greta Thunberg and other public figures could potentially enhance their impact by emphasizing other, non-political, facets of their identities that they share with diverse audiences.

Too Small?

You might of course be tempted to think that there is no way a 16 year old could ever truly have a global impact of long-term significance.

You would be wrong. She literally wrote the book “No one is Too Small To Make a Difference“, and was then named author of the year by Waterstones for this book in 2019 …


Meanwhile Greta is proving that she is not a 15 minute wonder by still doing her thing …

She currently has 4.6 million twitter followers. You can of course always make it 4.6 million Plus 1 more if you don’t currently follow her.

Leave a Reply