Affect or information? Examining drivers of public preferences of future energy portfolios in Switzerland
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The energy transition in Switzerland, as in many other countries, aims to increase the proportion of electricity produced using renewable energy technologies. In this context, governmental agencies and other institutions have attempted to communicate the implications of (domestic) electricity systems through the use of web-based and interactive decision support systems (DSSs). Studies show that, when no additional information is provided, preferences concerning the future electricity mix are mainly driven by the affective reactions that energy technologies evoke. A question remains, however, regarding how people engage with the information provided in a DSS, as well as whether such information is influential in terms of shaping people’s choices. We asked our participants to build an electricity portfolio using a DSS, which modeled the Swiss electricity system. The participants’ political orientation and their affective reactions to different energy technologies guided their information search, as well as the choice of energy technologies within their portfolio. The attention paid to the information provided was not directly related to the participants’ portfolio choices. The selective processing of information, which was based on the participants’ prior attitudes, suggests that they target information they are already familiar with in the DSS. However, this also illustrates a caveat previously identified in motivated political reasoning, since selective information processing, together with the tendency to disconfirm information that is incongruent with prior beliefs, can lead to the polarization of previously held views. As the information provided through the DSS we tested was unable to change the participants’ affective-cognitive evaluation of energy technologies, its use should be carefully considered in light of the possible effects of consolidating existing beliefs.