Monthly summary

PKTTP Summary Byte August 2018

Welcome to our first monthly-ish Summary Byte. In these summaries we will attempt to very briefly outline how the preceding month’s bytes contribute to collective knowledge, and how they relate (or don’t relate) to one another.

This was also the month we went live, so many thanks to all of you who visited the site and thanks to Emily Gregg and Nicholas Yarmey for the outstanding contributions this month!

We learnt many things about factors that influence conservation related behaviour and also about how to frame our messages to influence behaviour. Note that the links below are to corresponding bytes which themselves feature links to the original papers.

Looking at human behaviour

We began our journey into conservation psychology by considering a paper by Selinske et al. (2018) which took us on a brief history and overview of conservation psychology, and argued that the continued development of the field is essential to addressing the challenges of biodiversity conservation.

An example of using conservation psychology to understand human behavior is given in the paper by St John et al. (2018), where psychological theory is applied to human wildlife conflict in Sumatra to identify predictors of hunting behavior among individuals living near a national park. This confirmed that perceived behavior control, affect, and injunctive norms are all relevant factors in people’s intention to hunt Sumatran tigers and other species.

Additionally, by examining Truelove and Gillis 2018 we found out that when it comes to perceptions of proenvironmental behaviors laypeople and experts may not always think alike. As such we should not make assumptions when designing behaviour change programs.


It’s well established that norms pose significant influence on behavior, and we learned a little about this in the context of message framing by Winter (2006). This begs the question of what proportion of a population is required to adopt a particular behviour, in order to create a sufficiently strong social norm that the behavior becomes accepted and the normal practice. Fortunately Centola et al. (2018) investigated this and discovered that if a minority-held behavior can reach a threshold of 25% of the population, then this can consistently shift the conventional behaviour, across a range of settings.


The paper by St John et al. (2018) also confirmed the influence of affect (i.e. the felt emotions) on behavior. The way emotions influence behavior was investigated by Wang et al. (2018) in respect of climate change. What’s important are the emotions that people attach to the things they care about, whether this is to future generations, the planet itself, or something else. This means that different types of people will care about different things, which means that we will need different ways to engage these different groups.

Messages framing

In papers by Kusmanoff et al. (2016) and Overton (2018) we were introduced to the concept of ‘message framing’ and the need to use appropriate frames to speak to different segments of your target audience.

We also learned from Kusmanoff et al. (2016) that by emphasising conservation benefits over community benefits and benefits to the landholders themselves, private land conservation organisations in Australia are likely only to be preaching to the conservation choir. In a similar vein, Sagle et al. 2013’s article on educational messaging to reduce human-bear conflicts found that the best educational message campaigns included not only bear facts and how to prevent bear problems, but also the benefits of bears to society.

It’s a sign!

Knowledge about psychology and framing help us understand how to create more effective signs that are intended to promote conservation behaviour.

A paper by Winter (2006) demonstrated that negatively framed messages are more effective than positively framed messages on signs that seek to persuade people to keep to a hiking trail. As this tested a broader theory supported by previous observations, this likely applies in many other situations too. This paper also demonstrated the potential influence that social norms can have in influencing behaviour through well-designed signs.

We also discovered from a paper by Sussman & Gifford (2011) that bigger signs can be more effective than smaller ones, when this helps increase the prominence of the message.

Nudge, nudge

Framing is one aspect of the broader concept of social ‘nudges’. A nudge is, loosely, a behavioural science based intervention intended to steer people towards behaviour that benefits them or the broader social good. For example, an opt-out organ donation system could be considered as a ‘nudge’, although the breadth of potential nudges is limited only by the imagination. The application of nudges to recreational fishing compliance was investigated by Mackay et al. (2018), who found that nudges had potential to improve compliance by recreational fishers compared to the traditional regulatory approach of ‘punitive deterrence’, but that there are few examples actually being employed.

We hope you have enjoyed our bytes this month. Until next time, please keep to the path.

-Alex Kusmanoff and Matthew Selinske

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