Seeing red, but acting green? Experimental evidence on charitable giving and affect towards biodiversity


There is a growing need to increase public support for conservation projects as biodiversity continues to decline rapidly around the world. This research investigates how different audio-visual information on conservation influences charitable donation behaviour and emotions.

564 volunteers were randomly assigned mocked-up conservation videos to watch, featuring a donation appeal at the end. Participants were then asked how much they wished to donate, from nothing up to £25.

More participants made a donation after watching videos featuring so-called ‘charismatic’ species (in this case, lions) than did after watching videos focusing on non-charismatic species (bats), but the focus on lions did not influence them to increase the size of the donation. The lion videos elicited more feelings of happiness while videos about the wider savanna habitat generated the most interest.

Adding mention of the human causes of species decline – hunting and poaching – to the videos influenced participants to make a bigger donation but did not increase the likelihood of donation. These videos also elicited stronger feelings of ‘outrage’, which has been shown to influence people to be more willing to donate to conservation causes.

The researchers concluded that conservation charities would benefit from highlighting the negative impacts of human behaviour, diversifying the type of species they feature and including more information on whole habitats, while continuing to feature charismatic species with popular appeal as a complementary strategy.

Key points for decision-makers

  • ‘Charismatic’ species are those with popular appeal, commonly large vertebrates.
  • Videos featuring the charismatic species, lions, caused more participants to donate (conditional on deciding to donate) compared with the videos focusing on bats or the savanna habitat, but they did not cause an increase in the amount donated.
  • Conversely, the videos that additionally mentioned the human causes of species decline caused the participants to donate around £2 more than they did after watching the videos that did not mention the cause (conditional on deciding to donate), raising average donations from £7 to £9. Including this information did not increase the likelihood of donating.
  • The researchers also tested the emotional impact of adding the human causes of decline and of using charismatic versus non-charismatic species. Showing the human causes produced an increase in self-reported anger, sadness and interest; watching the lion-focused videos increased self-reported happiness; and the savanna videos evoked the most interest. These changes in emotion states could be possible drivers of donation behaviour.
  • Finally, the researchers tested the impact of offering a non-financial incentive in the form of donors having their name published in a newspaper. This prompted a small increase in donations by participants who already made charitable donations outside the experiment.

The results of a follow-up study are covered in WP 302, Do biodiversity conservation videos cause pro-environmental spillover effects?, by the same authors.

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