Previous research investigating people's attitudes towards wildlife primarily focus on investigating gender differences and factors influencing ratings of likeability or attractiveness. However, with increasing biodiversity loss globally and an extinction rate 1000 times higher than the natural rate (De Vos et al. 2015), the need to examine the ways in which attitudes can be influenced to promote conservation is apparent. Politically, halting biodiversity loss has been addressed in Goal 15 (Life on Land) of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN, 2015). With relation to this the impact of human behaviour needs to be studied as a factor in aiding this objective.

This research explores the specific behaviours expressed when considering how people value the conservation of animal species. Taking a psychological stance is unique within the literature, nevertheless this experiment is designed using previous assumptions and offers an assessment of the factors that drive our actions. A plethora of articles have examined attitudes towards wildlife but in order to enact social change then questions asked within research need to be tailored. For instance, such topics include the effectiveness of flagship species used in charity campaigns, the reasons why we donate to particular causes and how much of a role personal bias has in our altruistic behaviour. The conservation status of endangered animal species is commonly used in campaigns by large organisations to promote donations from the public. The purpose of this study is to explore whether this approach is effective by targeting donation behaviour specifically.

Sustainable Development Goals: Gender Equality (5), Life on Land (15), Partnerships for the Goals (17)

Literature Review

Individual differences are consistently discussed in the literature that considers human attitudes surrounding non–human animals and conservation. Herzog, Betchart and Pittman (2014) asked college students about their opinions on a variety of animal welfare concerns, they found no significant gender differences in responses. Despite this, some trends were visible in the data as males tended to show less environmental concern compared with females. Interestingly, males reported that they felt more comfortable touching a list of animal species, with larger disparities apparent when considering more unfavourable species such as spiders and snakes. It was also found that increased femininity in a person is a good predictor of increased concern regarding environmental conservation (Ibid). This suggests that females are more susceptible to the social constructs that are attributed to different species; for example, companion animals like cats are considered cute whereas reptiles or insects are considered more negatively (Hills, 1989). Gender has been shown to be a significant predictor of environmental concern and less utilitarian attitudes towards the use of animals (Taylor & Signal, 2005).

Environmental attitudes have also been studied in young people currently in education that ranged from primary school age to university students (Schlegel & Rupf, 2010). Despite finding no significant gender differences between species, the researchers did find a similar pattern in terms of affinity. In stark contrast mammals, birds and butterflies were viewed more positively than reptiles, amphibians and insects. Unlike the previous research, this study asked participants to give their reasoning behind their attitudes. It was postulated that females responded more to the social constructs of the animals as they showed less affinity to 'fear related species' but held more positive opinions of animals considered 'lovable'. Higher education also resulted in a more positive interest in environmental issues, where knowledge of endangered species was a crucial factor in determining attitudes of young people. Research by Holl et al. (1995) also showed that higher education resulted in increased environmental awareness.

Attractiveness of animal species has been widely discussed as a factor in influencing participant's judgments of endangered species as conservation organisations largely base their selection of flagship species in this manner. Less aesthetically pleasing mammal species like bats are viewed negatively, similar to insects primarily based on their appearance (Knight, 2007). Our perceptions of endangered species are determined largely by their aesthetics as we use heuristics to quickly make judgements about the animal based on its class. Kellert (1993) found that cross culturally, people tend to prefer animals that are visually appealing, culturally important or familiar. These are all factors that influence whether people donate to conservation projects in response to seeing a campaign with a flagship animal. Interestingly research has found that if participants are told that a previously encountered unattractive animal is endangered, then its rating of attractiveness increases (Gunnthorsdottir, 2001). The same effect is not seen in animals that are rated attractive; knowledge of their conservation status did not result in a more attractive rating. Flagship species are used to engage audiences with campaigns in order to raise awareness and encourage donations. Species are selected based upon their appearance, familiarity and conservation status (Andelman & Fagan, 2000). Although conservation organisations tend to select charismatic species to spearhead their campaigns, it has been shown that non–charismatic species also have the ability to muster support (Home et al. 2009). The aim of this study is to investigate the effect of supplying information about the conservation status of species as a tool for increasing donations rather than the charisma or attractiveness of a species.

Change in focus

At present, there is an abundance of research articles that focus on the attitudes we have towards endangered wildlife (Herzog et al., 2014; Schlegel & Rupf, 2010; Cornelisse & Duane, 2013), with a lack of investigation into the specific behaviours related to conservation. In order for research to have more practical implications for behavioural change, St John (2010) suggests that the focus should be on factors that motivate human behaviour. The author continues to propose that finding predictors of behaviour will ensure greater success of interventions. Since it has been discussed that individual perspectives of wildlife are different, there is a clear need for the psychological study of conservation. In taking a methodological approach to solving environmental problems, conservation psychology has been championed by studies from Saunders (2003), with the use of behaviour change models. The context in which species are perceived changes the way people consider wildlife; for instance, a species that is considered a pest by farmers, may be thought of as a conservation priority species by a conservationist (Opotow & Brooks, 2003; Tisdell & Xiang, 1998).

When making monetary decisions humans tend to be irrational; giving behaviour in particular tends to focus on personal bias as people were shown to give more to causes that mean something to them rather than the one with the most urgent needs (Breeze, 2010; Snipes & Oswald, 2010). The predictors of behaviour rely on what is important to different people, with this in mind Clayton and Brook (2005) suggest that situational context, personal motives and existing schemas need to be considered. An individual's consumer behaviour is influenced by their culture, consequently better understanding of the best strategy to encourage donations from a wide range of demographics is important (Rani, 2014).

Emotional Relationship

The "Biophilia Hypothesis" states that humans tend to have an innate affinity to the natural world (Kellert, 1993) as exposure to the environment can have both mental and physical benefits (Crawford et al., 2006; O'Haire, 2010). Conservation organisations can use the emotional connection we have with the wildlife to persuade the public to donate. Conservation campaigns tend to focus on charismatic endangered animals, supplying the reader with information about the conservation status of the species. Specific problems faced within the species habitat and the types of interventions donations will contribute towards are also discussed. Research suggests that our individual biophilia to species and affective factors play a pivotal role in whether people are willing to pay for conservation of biodiversity (Mártin–López et al., 2007). These factors played an even more important role in encouraging conservation than the ecological and scientific importance of conserving said species.


Development of Hypothesis

Little research has investigated what effect knowledge about conservation status has on influencing people's tendency to contribute towards conservation, therefore, this study uses information about different Hampshire wildlife to test changes in giving behaviour. Situational context has been shown to influence the attitudes of local people as personal beliefs or bias shape attitudes towards wildlife and conservation interventions (Tarrant et al., 2016). To gain an understanding of how context can affect the economic value of biodiversity, this study will also ask participants if they have been to the New Forest before. This is important because it has been shown that people with a previous knowledge of a beetle species, who regularly engaged in recreational activities in the habitat showed more support towards conservation efforts (Cornelisse & Duane, 2013). A participant's attitudes towards wildlife will be tested using a Money Distribution Task (MDT) designed specifically for this experiment. The task will be used to test for gender differences and investigate the effect of situational context of people visiting the New Forest on the valuation of local wildlife. Having completed the initial MDT, participants will be shown information about the conservation status of species native to the New Forest, they will then be asked to complete the MDT once more. The change in giving behaviour will be used to see which type of information will influence conservation specific behaviour the most, however it is expected that participants who learn that species are endangered will offer these species more support and adjust their giving behaviour significantly. It is hypothesised that participants who are explicitly told that the species they encounter in the experiment are conservation priority species will offer more support to these species.

As this study uses human participants an application was sent to the Ethics Committee within the School of Psychology at the University of Southampton. An online form was uploaded and accepted onto Ethics and Research Governance Online (ERGO) using the ethics number, 18828. The rationale of the study had to be included alongside a breakdown of how participants consent would be given and whether participants could be affected when completing the study. A justification for the deception used in the procedure was given and it was essential to outline that a comprehensive debrief statement was included at termination of the study.

When designing this study, the ideal sample size for the number of factors in the design was calculated. The formula was as follows, n = 50 + (8 x number of factors). From the calculation, it was deduced that 170 participants would be the correct minimum number of participants to ensure a valid test of the hypothesis. However, when carrying out the research phase only 32 participants were recruited. Despite this, the novel nature of the study creates the opportunity for this research to be used as a feasibility study to investigate possible methodology for the future. Therefore, the design and implications of this research can be considered as a basis for further exploration of how human behaviour affects wildlife conservation.


32 University of Southampton undergraduates (21 females and 11 males) were recruited using posters on campus, with Psychology students participating in exchange for course credits and other students were entered into a £20 prize draw. Participants were aged between 18–25 years (M=19.83, SD=1.66). The gender difference in the number of participants taking part in the experiment reflects the enrolment in Psychology and another reason for this difference could be varying willingness to participate in social experiments in one's own time.


The ten images of animal species native to the New Forest were neutral photographs of the animals in the wild gathered from various web pages. Owners of the images were contacted and permission to use the images was granted. The animals were as follows: Adder (Vipera besus), Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis), Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes), Grey Squirrel (Scuirus carolinensis), Polecat (Mustela putorius), Fallow Deer (Dama dama), Grey Long Eared Bat (Plecotus austriacus), Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus) and Southern Damselfly (Coenagrion mercuriale). Images on habitats present in the New Forest were displayed to participants in the C condition.


An independent group experimental design was used, where the independent variable had three levels, consisting of three conditions with different types of knowledge about local wildlife and the New Forest as previously discussed. The change in donation from before the information was given, to the second MDT was used as the dependent variable.


The experiment was completed in isolation with the participants alone in a small room with a desk and computer. When participants arrived at the allocated room, they were asked to understand and sign the consent form on the desk. Next, participants were asked to follow instructions on the computer screen which guided them through the questionnaire starting with the demographics section and onto the MDT. When the questionnaire was started the participant was allocated a condition, either priority (P), non priority (NP) or control (C) condition.

Consent forms were used that included information regarding the procedure, anonymity of data, risks involved, the availability of further information about the research, rewards for participation and reassurance that participation was voluntary. The purpose of the study was included. Confirmation of age, consent for participation and understanding of the information was required. The experiment was run on a standard computer monitor and it began with a short demographics questionnaire to gather information about age, gender, course studied, year of study and whether the participant had visited the New Forest. The next section included images of ten animal species native to the New Forest (with all rights reserved) and information asking the participants to familiarise themselves with the species on the screen for one minute. Participants were then asked to distribute £1000 amongst the ten animals using text boxes below images of the animals. A counter was used to ease the process and allow the participant to keep track of the money available to them. In the next section, information was presented to participants for 1 minute on the screen. The information differed depending on the condition that the participants were randomly allocated to. The P group read about four conservation priority species which were as follows; Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis), Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes), Polecat (Mustela putorius) and Southern Damselfly (Coenagrion mercuriale). Whilst the NP group read about six species with large populations in the New Forest; the Adder (Vipera besus), Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), Grey Squirrel (Squirus carolinensis), Fallow Deer, Grey Long Eared Bat (Plecotus austriacus) and Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus). Finally, the C group were required to read general information about New Forest habitats. An error message then appeared on the screen that told participants they were required to complete the MDT once more. After this a debrief statement was included at the end of the questionnaire with the expected hypotheses.


32 participants took part in the experiment with ages ranging between 18–25 years (M=19.83, SD=1.66). There were 10 participants allocated to the P condition, 11 participants in the NP condition and 11 participants in the C condition. The data set was highly variable due to the flexibility of the MDT. Therefore, non–parametric tests were used to analyse the data as it was not normally distributed. An alpha level of P=0.05 was used for all statistical tests.

Effect of New Forest Context on Initial MDT

The responses to 'How well do you know the New Forest?' can be viewed in Figure 1. A Kruskal–Wallis test was conducted to examine the differences in the mean amount of money given to the ten animal species by participants before the information was displayed, with different levels of familiarity with the New Forest. There were no significant differences found, the test statistics can be found in Table 1.

Effect of Gender on Initial MDT

A Mann–Whitney U test was conducted to examine the gender differences between the mean ranks of the initial donations to the ten animal species before the information was displayed. The test revealed that there were significant gender differences in initial donations to the Adder (Vipera besus), U=57, p=0.02, and the Fallow Deer (Dama dama), U=62, p=0.04. Initial mean donations by males (M=21.82) to the Adder (Vipera besus) were ranked higher than females (M=13.71), and the mean donations to the Fallow Deer (Dama dama) by females (M=19.05) were ranked higher than males (M=11.64) in the initial MDT. Test statistics can be found in Table 2. It must be considered that the number of males (11) and females (21) who took part in the experiment were different and therefore it is difficult to extrapolate the results to a wider population without further research.

Between group analysis

A Kruskal–Wallis test was conducted to examine the differences in the mean change in the money donated to the ten animal species by participants depending on which type of information was supplied. The test, which was corrected for ties, was significant for the Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) X2 (2, N=32)= 7.27, p=0.03 and the Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) X2 (2, N=32)= 9.81, p=0.01. To examine pair–wise differences follow up tests were conducted for these two animal species. The remaining eight species showed no significant differences. Test statistics can be found in Table 3.

Further Kruskal–Wallis tests revealed that differences found in the mean change in donations to the Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) were as a result of significant differences between the P condition and the C condition, X2 (2, N=32)= 8.01, p=0.01. The remaining groups did not reveal significant differences and test statistics can be found in Table 4.

Further Kruskal–Wallis tests revealed that differences found in the mean change in donations to the Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) were as a result of significant differences between the P condition and the C condition, X2 (2, N=32)= 10.92, p=0.01. There were also significant differences between the P condition and the NP condition, X2 (2, N=32)= 4.33, p=0.04. No significant differences were found between the NP and C conditions and test statistics can be found in Table 5.


The change in donations values were transformed to represent percentage change of donation from the £1000 available. Trends can be seen in the data although, for the most part results from statistical analysis were not significant.

Figure 2 shows the percentage behaviour change in each species for participants in the P condition. The percentage donation changes in the priority species, Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) (M=35, SD=38.08), Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) (M=38.50, SD=30.56), Polecat (Mustela putorius)(M=20.5, SD=58.18) and Southern Damselfly (Coenagrion mercuriale) (M=30, SD=41.13), all increased in response to information about their priority conservation status. The non–priority species saw a decline in the percentage change in donation by participants in the P condition. It was shown however, that the percentage change in donation to the Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus) increased (M=5.5, SD=17.71).

Next, Figure 3 shows the percentage change in the donations to the species by participants in the NP condition and behaviour change was smaller in these participants than in the P condition. Despite only being given information about the species who are not considered conservation priorities, participants still gave more money to the priority species, Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) (M=12.27, SD=69.11), Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) (M=13.18, SD=52.74), Polecat (Mustela putorius)(M=17.27, SD=39.77) and Southern Damselfly (Coenagrion mercuriale) (M=28.18, SD=39.96). Donations to the Adder (Vipera besus) (M=5.91, SD=44.32) increased also. The remaining non–priority species saw a decrease in the percentage donation change.

Finally, Figure 4 shows the percentage donation change after participants in the C condition were shown information about the New Forest. Behaviour changes do not follow the trends in priority species being given more support, however three species did show an increase in percentage donation change, the Adder (Vipera besus) (M=12.73, SD=18.08), Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus) (M=7.27, SD=24.12) and Southern Damselfly (Coenagrion mercuriale) (M=14.55, SD=18.09).


This experiment investigated what effect knowledge of conservation status of local wildlife would have on University student's support for the conservation of these species. Results suggest that participants' giving behaviour was not significantly affected by knowledge of conservation status. Despite this, it was found that if participants are told that the Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) and Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) are considered conservation priorities, then they will donate more money to them. Giving behaviour for these species was influenced the most by knowledge that the species are endangered. Donations to the Priority species also increased as a result of participants gaining knowledge that the Non–Priority species have abundant populations in the New Forest. An insufficient level of knowledge about a species can lead to irrational negative or incorrect attitudes towards species being formed (Tarrant et al., 2016). The Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) is one of the lesser known species used in the pictures so this may have given the illusion that it is rare and therefore caused participants to consider it as a major priority after learning it is endangered.

Much like previous research it is possible that upon learning animal species are endangered, the participant's perceptions of wildlife changed (Gunnthorsdottir, 2001; Cornelisse & Duane, 2013). Participants in the P condition were explicitly told that 4 species needed their help, it can be inferred that this produced a feeling of empathy towards these species as more money was given to them. Interestingly, it can be inferred that participants understood the implications of the information supplied in the NP condition as donations increased for the priority species even though no information about these species was supplied. It can be hypothesised, with respect to previous research (Mártin–López et al., 2007) that personal bias played a larger role in the decision to donate to the species than the knowledge of conservation status, as largely no significant differences emerged. The lack of statistical significance could be a consequence of the small sample size, which could not reveal any reliable changes in behaviour. High levels of variability in the data also resulted from the small sample and the use of a larger sample could reveal variation between different types of knowledge of conservation status.

Although the data was not statistically significant for 8 of the species, it appears that giving behaviour was influenced most in the P condition. The average percentage change in the money given to the priority species appeared to be largest in this condition following the information (Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis), M=35; Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes), M=38.5; Polecat (Mustela putorius), M=20.5; Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus), M=30). Also, the amount of money taken away from the non–priority species was also larger in the P condition compared to NP or C condition. As expected, behaviour was largely unchanged in the C condition with eight species showing a percentage change in donations of below 10%. Furthermore, it can be assumed that participants understood the information in the NP condition as 4 of the species showing positive percentage changes in donations were the priority species. Participants were given information about the 6 non–priority species in isolation but it appears they were able to infer the conservation status of the other 4 priority species. In order to have a greater influence on behaviour then the medium of information supplied could be changed. A paragraph of writing on a computer screen with images of animal species or the New Forest habitat was used to supply knowledge to the participants. False charity campaigns like those used by Gunnthordottir (2001) could be created as it would add credibility to the information and possibly engage the participants in the task more. With respect to the work of Gunnthordottir (2001), further research needs to continue with exposure to unattractive endangered animals to see if consistent flow of conservation status information will begin to affect people's behaviour more than exposing participants to the images once.

Further adaption of this study needs to consider the possible effects of using a cash incentive to draw participants. It has been suggested that different styles of incentivising participation attract different subsets of the population (Hsieh & Kocielnik, 2016). Lottery based rewards are said to attract people with personalities that are more open minded. In conservation research, this targets a population that tends to have greater interest in welfare issues. Moreover, development of the MDT would need further control of the error message that is displayed to participants. It was assumed that the time spent reading the information displayed in each condition would be sufficient to enable the second MDT to be an isolated task. To ensure participants have limited or no memory of their previous task then a distraction task like those discussed by Craik (2014) could be implemented. A final limitation to be discussed is the small sample size obtained when running this study. As it is greatly below 100 participants, the validity of the conclusions taken from the results can be questioned. The standard deviations seen within the results are high which reflects a low level of accuracy, to improve this then the number of participants needs to be increased.

Findings from previous research suggest that there are no significant gender differences in people's attitudes towards valuing wildlife (Schlegel and Rupf, 2010; Herzog et al., 2014) and the results of this study are largely consistent with this finding. However, it was found that males gave significantly more to the Adder (Vipera besus) and females gave significantly more to the Fallow Deer (Dama dama). Although previous research did not reveal significant differences, it did show that females valued cute animals more than males, with males favouring less attractive animals (Hills, 1989). Assumptions made by evaluating differences seen between genders are limited by the sample size and the number of participants of each gender (11 male and 21 female). Further research would need to ensure a fairer distribution of the genders amongst participants in order to efficiently study gender differences. This experiment was restricted by the parameters of developing a research study for a final year project. Access to the study was limited, however these results offer a compelling prospect to be addressed in further research.

The Fallow Deer (Dama dama) is a large well–known mammal that would fit the flagship selection criteria of large organisations (Andelman & Fagan, 2000). Local species used in the experiment were selected in an ad hoc manner to represent differing levels of conservation status and class of animal. This selection approach could be adapted to be more methodological to ensure the species have a greater effect on participant's behaviour by taking into account their impact as flagship species, people's attitudes to species and familiarity with the species. Therefore, pre–testing could be used in order to narrow down a large list of potential species using market research as suggested by Verissimo et al. (2010). This strategy would control the effects of less well–known species or those that evoke smaller emotional responses. Knowledge that a species has a priority conservation status does not have a large effect on giving behaviour, therefore personal biases in public opinion and differences resulting from demographics need to be considered when seeking to influence donations. Future replications of this study need to incorporate a test of multidimensional emotion scales to evaluate how participants respond to different animal species like research by Myers et al. (2004).

Development of this research requires a more comprehensive assessment of personality traits using a methodology similar to Kellert (1996), there is need to consider attitudes towards the use of animals, valuations of the importance of wildlife and cultural demographics, e.g. level of education, economic background and exposure to wildlife. Another factor that could be considered in the future is the differences seen in rural and urban populations, to examine whether context and way of life affects attitudes towards conservation. It could be hypothesised that rural dwellers would show more environmental concern than urban dwellers, as previous research suggests situational context influences willingness to pay for conservation (Clayton and Brook, 2005). Therefore, the effect of different education strategies could be investigated as a variety of factors have been discussed that influence the effectiveness of displaying information about conservation status and the use of different species. Also, it has been discussed that higher education is a good predictor of environmental concern (Schlegel & Rupf, 2010; Taylor & Signal, 2005; Holl et al.,1995) and all the participants in this experiment were all educated to university level. In order to gain a more representative sample a more variable demographic should be tested. For the purposes of this experiment however, more environmental concern is a benefit as it suggests that participants would fully engage in the task.


The results of this experiment highlight the need to adapt the approaches conservation organisations take in trying to muster support for preserving global biodiversity. It appears that knowledge of conservation status does not have a large effect on encouraging donations however both explicit and implicit pieces of information did tailor people's donations to particular species. This implies that other factors are more important such as the emotional connection people have with animals, level of education, the species perceived attractiveness or universal notions that are attributed to a species. Although it plays a role, this experiment suggests that conservation status of species is not an effective tool in the selection of flagship species and it has highlighted the need for a methodological approach to be taken when designing conservation campaigns.


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