Applying social science to assess public interaction with shale gas

By Matthew Strobl, Brian Southwell, Jason Norman, Lauren McCormack, Paul Pulliam

We propose a research agenda for the application of social science methods to enhance the understanding of the public’s relationship with shale gas. We summarize the history of shale gas usage and the recent increase in its prominence as a source of energy, as well as some of the relevant policy and media issues which have been discussed. We identify questions for study regarding the public’s knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors (KABs) related to shale gas. An increased understanding of these KABs will help to clarify options for public policy and may identify other energy-related public perception issues requiring additional study. An example of a possible research direction we consider is the extent to which the public has grasped a link between the use of shale gas and the resulting personal environmental and economic costs or benefits. We discuss theoretical considerations that can inform a research agenda, including constructs from psychological and behavioral theory. We discuss next steps aimed at developing a research agenda that can help provide statistically reliable estimates as well as in-depth context of KABs about shale gas. We identify priorities as the field moves forward: transparency, evidence-based decision making, clear communication, and civic engagement.


Strobl, M., Southwell, B., Norman, J., McCormack, L., & Pulliam, P. (2016). Applying social science to assess public interaction with shale gas. (RTI Press Research Brief No. RB-0013-1607). Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI Press.

© 2019 RTI International. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


Matthew StroblMatthew M. Strobl, MA, is the director of RTI International’s Responsible Resource Development initiative.

Brian SouthwellBrian Southwell, PhD, directs the Science in the Public Sphere program in the Center for Communication Science at RTI International. 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. Dr. Southwell holds faculty appointments at Duke University (through Duke’s Energy Initiative) and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and also hosts the public radio show "The Measure of Everyday Life" on WNCU.

Jason NormanJason S. Norman, PhD, is head of RTI’s Responsible Resource Development initiative. Dr. Norman also leads RTI’s corporate-level strategic planning for natural gas energy research.

Lauren McCormackLauren A. McCormack, PhD, created and directs RTI’s Center for Communication Science. Dr. McCormack is also adjunct associate professor at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  

Paul PulliamPaul Pulliam, BA, directs RTI’s Center for Health Research. He also serves as director of RTI’s Chicago office.

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