Americans’ Perceived and Actual Understanding of Energy

Brian G. Southwell, Joseph J. Murphy, Jan E. DeWaters, Patricia A. LeBaron



To address the lack of information about American’s perceived and actual knowledge related to energy, RTI researchers measured three concepts: perceived understanding of energy, demonstrated energy knowledge, and the ability to interpret an energy bill. Results suggest that public understanding of energy is multifaceted, and perceived understanding is not directly equivalent to actual understanding in many cases. Results of this survey provide insight into individual and household energy consumption behavior, which has implications for future policy and intervention.

Suggested Citation

Southwell, B.G., Murphy, J.J., DeWaters, J.E., LeBaron, P.A. (August 2012). Americans’ perceived and actual understanding of energy: RTI Press Publication No. RR-0018-1208. Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI Press.

Brian G. Southwell

Brian Southwell, PhD, is an expert in communication and human behavior and a senior research scientist in the Center for Communication Science at RTI. His large-scale evaluation work has spanned behaviors and audiences, including cancer prevention and screening promotion efforts, national campaigns to discourage drug and tobacco use, efforts to bolster television news coverage of science, and various state-level campaigns. He also has studied public understanding of energy and related topics.

Joseph J. Murphy

Joseph J. Murphy, MA, is a survey methodologist at RTI International. For more than 15 years, he has researched the causes and solutions for issues related to survey quality and management.

Jan E. DeWaters

Jan E. DeWaters, PhD, is an instructor for the Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York.

Patricia A. LeBaron

Patricia A. LeBaron, MA, is a survey methodologist at RTI International with extensive experience in survey methodology and operations.