Variable: Beliefs

Beliefs are statements about reality that are accepted by an individual as true (Boudon and Bourricaud 1989; Theodorson and Theodorson 1969); citizens may have the belief that forests are being overcut, that water quality is low, or that certain salmon stocks may not be endangered. Beliefs differ from values, which are opinions about the desirability of a condition.

Beliefs arise from many sources: personal observation, mass media, tradition, ideologies, testimony of others, faith, logic, and science. Beliefs are crucial to human ecosystem functioning, for they supply a set of "social facts" (Durkheim 1938) that individuals, social groups, and organizations use in interacting with the world. Hence, environmental interest groups and industry associations rely on a public set of beliefs concerning environmental crises (which may or may not be factual) to energize and increase their membership.

Beliefs can be measured by their ideological content (e.g. liberal or conservative) and intensity (the proportion of a population that shares a similar belief). As beliefs change, social institutions often are forced to respond. For example, the changing public beliefs concerning the safety of nuclear power has led to a decline in nuclear power production in the United States (Dunlap et al. 1993).

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