Do biodiversity conservation videos cause pro-environmental spillover effects?


Conservation organisations increasingly use audio-visual media such as short videos to reach mass audiences with donation appeals. This research investigates the unintentional further effects such content might have on how people subsequently act in relation to environmental causes.

Volunteer participants were randomly assigned either to watch a ‘baseline’ video containing conservation-relevant information with a donation appeal at the end, or to watch one of the baseline videos with additional information on the human causes of species threat, or to not watch any video. Next the participants were asked if and how much they wished to donate to a wildlife charity, from nothing up to £25; then if they would be willing to pay an obligatory green fee (a tax on disposable hot drinks cups); and finally if they were prepared to volunteer their time, from zero to seven hours, to an environmental cause (organising an event). Some participants were asked these questions directly without being shown one of the videos first.

The aim was to trace whether individuals reverse or enforce their previous environmental and moral behaviour after making a financial donation.

Including the human cause of species threat increased the amount donated and watching any of the videos increased the probability of being willing to pay the green fee but there was limited effect on willingness to donate time.

The implications for conservation organisations are firstly that they could follow up donation requests with smaller requests for further environmental action; secondly that special care must be paid to the narrative used in media content; and thirdly that follow-up requests for action that is more similar to a supporter’s previous behaviour (e.g. donations of money or time) may yield the best results.

Key points for decision-makers

  • The researchers found that including the human cause of species threat in the video increased the size of the amount donated by around £2.05, reasonably sizeable given that many charities request a £5.00 minimum donation.
  • Participants exposed to any of the videos were more likely to choose to pay a green fee on disposable cups related to the no-video control group and this effect was stronger for those who had donated to charities in the past.
  • However, this effect did not spill over into donating time to fundraising. This suggests that watching charity videos has limited impact on subsequent pro-environmental behaviour beyond donating, in the settings considered.
  • 259 volunteers participated, at the London School of Economics Behavioural Research Lab.

This paper is a follow-up study to Seeing red, but acting green? Experimental evidence on charitable giving and affect towards biodiversity, WP no. 301, by the same authors.

Grantham Research Institute Working Paper series ISSN: 2515-5717 (online)