Continued development of the field of conservation psychology is essential to addressing the challenges of biodiversity conservation.
My colleagues at RMIT and I recently published an opinion piece in the journal Conservation Biology discussing where conservation psychology research is at today. Based on the results of a literature search we demonstrate that while conservation psychology research has increased over the past 15 years, it has not become a major focus in field of conservation science and not near enough to meet the biodiversity conservation challenges we face. From the literature search it also appears that conservation psychology has not been taken up as a catch all term for applied psychological research in conservation science.
We argue that the characteristics underpinning the behaviors that impact biodiversity make these behaviors more entrenched and difficult to change than other focal environmental behaviours such as at home energy consumption. Biodiversity behaviors are generally context specific, their impact diffuse in nature, costly to change, lack feedback mechanisms, and are difficult to quantify. Given their complexity the psychological theory or tools developed for other environmental issues may not be as applicable. It’s also possible that the degree difficulty and the lack of quantifiable behaviour change make biodiversity behaviors difficult to study, potentially deterring psychologists from engaging with conservation science, and hampering the growth of conservation psychology.
There is great potential for conservation psychology to help address current and future biodiversity challenges, but we need to increase engagement between conservation scientists and psychologists. Beyond many of the very valuable suggestions or interventions previously made in the literature, we suggest that if you are engaged in any psychological research within conservation science, be it conservation marketing, human dimensions of wildlife, zoo engagement research or conservation messaging, use the term ‘conservation psychology’ in key words selection to highlight your work, the breadth of the research within conservation psychology, and its importance to understanding and impacting biodiversity issues and initiatives.