Elke Weber receives BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award

Written by
Colton Poore, Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment
April 25, 2024
Cognitive psychologist Elke Weber has been awarded a Frontiers of Knowledge Award in humanities and social sciences from the BBVA Foundation.

Weber, the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor of Energy and the Environment and professor of psychology and public affairs, was recognized for her work to understand and inform environmental decision-making processes and human responses to climate change. In the citation for the award, Weber was commended for her role as an influential policy adviser and for “her ability to draw on insights from a wide range of disciplines, and to use them to put her ideas into consequential action that will be of benefit to the whole world.”

Weber studies how people interpret risk and make decisions under uncertainty, often in the context of climate and environmental policy. Motivated to understand why people do not always make wholly rational choices — ones grounded in data alone — her work has shown that people often consult their emotions or other factors like social norms to arrive at a decision. Weber has also found that people often struggle to act when the costs of doing so are immediate, but the anticipated benefits are significantly delayed.

“Climate change is, in some sense, a perfect storm,” Weber said in a statement. “All the things that make behavior difficult in other situations, like not eating right or not saving enough for our retirement, are there with climate change.”

Insights from Weber’s work have informed guidelines and best practices about how to effectively communicate the risks of climate change, create policy incorporating the different ways in which people perceive risk, and motivate individuals to make environmentally friendly choices. She was the first expert from the field of psychology invited to serve on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and she was a lead author of the Climate Change Mitigation working group for the IPCC’s  5th and 6th Assessment Reports.

Weber joined the Princeton faculty in 2016 and leads the Behavioral Science for Policy Lab. She is the associate director for education at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, an interdisciplinary center based in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. She is also a core faculty member of the Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment based in the School of Public and International Affairs. She earned a Ph.D. and M.A. in cognitive psychology from Harvard University and a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from York University in Toronto, Canada.

Based in Spain, the BBVA Foundation centers its activity on the promotion and recognition of scientific research and cultural creation. The Frontiers of Knowledge Awards were established in 2008 to recognize basic research and creative work worldwide that significantly enlarges the stock of knowledge in a discipline, opens up new fields, or builds bridges between disciplinary areas.

Weber joins a cohort of Princeton faculty and researchers who have received Frontiers of Knowledge Awards, including Jeanne Altmann, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Emerita (2023); Peter Singer, the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics (2023); Charles Fefferman, the Herbert E. Jones, Jr. ’43 University Professor of Mathematics (2022); Simon Levin, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (2022); Susan Fiske, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology and professor of psychology and public affairs (2019); Peter Grant, the Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology, Emeritus, and B. Rosemary Grant, senior research biologist, emeritus, (2017); Syukuro “Suki” Manabe, a senior meteorologist in the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and 2021 Nobel Laureate in Physics (2016); Angus Deaton, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of International Affairs, Emeritus, and 2015 Nobel Laureate in Economics (2011); and Isaac Held, senior meteorologist in the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and associated faculty in HMEI (2011).