A new study from the London School of Economics and Political Science, shows that people were more likely to support conservation policies, and show greater pro-wildlife conservation behaviours and intentions, when they believed that the spread of COVID-19 was linked to the human depletion of nature.
In an online experiment, over 1,000 participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups (including a control group). Three of the groups were given an article based on news stories that had already been in mainstream media outlets, focussing on where the virus originated (below). The control group were given an article unrelated to COVID-19.
- Animal to human transmission via a market in Wuhan, China.
- The virus may have been spread from animal to human but the destruction of nature increases the risk of animal-human spread.
- The virus originated in a biosecurity lab in Wuhan, China.
Then, subjects were asked about a number of pro-wildlife conservation outcomes: donations to nature conservation, in an incentivised charitable giving task, stated intentions to undertake pro-conservation behaviours, and stated support for policies that are pro-wildlife conservation.
The study found that articles linking COVID-19 to the human depletion of nature elicited significantly greater pro-conservation policy support, especially for bans in the commercial trade of wildlife, when compared to the control group. This narrative also increased the likelihood of making a donation of at least £10. Participants also found the human-cause link to the spread of COVID-19 a less familiar story, but it elicited greater mental and emotional engagement, and stronger feelings that firms and governments should take responsibility to mitigate wildlife extinction.
But the findings also suggest that the effect of narratives is fragile: either removing information about the human cause from the article, or conversely adding a counter-narrative (as in the lab cause) removed these effects.
The study, led by Dr Ganga Shreedhar (Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science at LSE) and co-authored by Professor Susana Mourato (Department of Geography and the Environment at LSE), is the first of its kind to explore a direct link between narratives connecting health with wildlife and environmental conservation, and the impact on pro-wildlife behaviours, such as donations. In particular, the authors provide causal evidence about how types of narratives, such as stories in the media, affect pro-conservation outcomes in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Ganga Shreedhar says:
"Our study demonstrates that making people aware about how human behaviour towards nature affects human health (through the Covid-19 pandemic) can usher in public support for wildlife and environmental protection. It basically underscores how human health depends on the health of the planet"
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Linking Human Destruction of Nature to COVID 19 Increases Support for Wildlife Conservation Policies, Ganga Shreedhar and Susana Mourato, Environmental and Resource Economics.
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