A huge congrats to Behavioural Science Hub affiliate Ganga Shreedhar for winning the LSE Festival’s Reseach Poster Competition with her poster entitled ‘Seeing red, acting green? The impact of biodiversity conservation videos on charitable donations and affect’. The poster presents a study that Ganga carried out in the Behavioural Research Lab in collaboration with her PhD supervisor Professor Susana Mourato (Head of the Department of Geography and the Environment). Read about the motivation for the study and its findings below or check out the poster in all of its glory here.
The issue: The 6th mass extinction is real – the average rate of vertebrate species loss was 100 times the historical background rate over the past 100 years. Audio-visual media is a powerful tool to raise environmental awareness, financial resources, and policy support. Does media content impact pro-social behaviour towards nature and experienced affect? Why should we care? Organizations tell stories of charismatic flagships (e.g. lions, polar bears or pandas) because they may generate greater sympathy and support, but risk excluding ‘less-loved’ species from the conservation agenda. Charity videos rarely include information on adverse human impacts on species. A key question then, is by making our impacts on the natural world salient, can we create positive behavioural change?
What they did: They ran two lab experiments to measure the impact of media content on affect (Study 1) & charitable donations (Study 2). They constructed six videos using an ordered sequence of photos and a scripted voice-over. Specifically, they crossed media content on the species/habitat type, and the anthropogenic cause of endangerment. Each baseline video featured either a charismatic species (Lions), or a non-charismatic species (Bats), or a complex biodiversity habitat composed of the two (Savanna). Each video with Cause content contained an additional photo & a line of voice-over stating the anthropogenic cause of endangerment from illegal hunting and trade (one for each species/habitat).
What they found: First, media content impacts affect. Videos with Cause content (with the anthropogenic source of endangerment) increases anger, interest, sadness & sympathy – i.e., media content on the human-made causes of biodiversity loss causes complex, mixed emotion states. Charismatic species (Lions) elicit higher happiness (but not sympathy, or other measured affective states), compared to non-charismatic species (Bats). Second, media content impacts donations. Videos with Cause content increases the amount donated, conditional on having decided to donate – but not the probability of donating. Charismatic species (Lions) increase the probability of donating conditional on having decided to donate – but not the amount donated. Moreover, those who donated to charities in the past (outside the lab) donated higher amounts & were more sensitive to the Cause treatment.
Implications: Their results suggest that conservation organizations and charities could use charismatic species to expand the donor base, but diversify the range of species & habitats in appeals. Moreover, they can possibly raise more support and resources by making the anthropogenic cause of endangerment salient & clear in their outreach efforts. As their results were based on findings from a lab experiment, field testing to check external validity is an important next step.