In a nutshell: Since its airing, the nature documentary Blue Planet II has been credited with reducing plastic use amongst viewers. This paper presents and experimental evaluation of the series with findings indicating that plastic preference may not have been significantly impacted.
We conducted a randomised control trial experiment where volunteers were randomly allocated into one of two groups. One group was shown Blue Planet II (our treatment condition) and the other watched The Blue Planet (our control condition). The Blue Planet is a marine themed documentary and was chosen as our control as it doesn’t discuss conservation practices. Questionnaires were completed before and after watching the assigned documentaries, measuring participants’ understanding of and attitudes towards marine conservation issues guided by the Theory of Planned Behaviour model.
In order to measure individual’s plastic use, participants were offered a snack before and after the showings. These snacks were presented in both plastic and paper packaging and the researchers noted whether participants opted for the plastic packaged snacks. Results showed that watching Blue Planet II increased participants’ knowledge of environmental issues but, in contradiction to the popular media hypothesis, did not reduce the likelihood of choosing plastic. This conclusion is supported by previous behavioural studies that have found information alone is not sufficient to change behaviour.
In recent years nature documentaries have shifted their narrative towards a focus on conservation themes. But as this study demonstrates this may not be enough to change the behaviours of viewers. To demonstrate the effectiveness of media highlighting conservation issues this study presents a method that can be applied to future evaluations.
Image credit: Plastic Pollution in Ghana by Muntaka Chasant, available at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plastic_Pollution_in_Ghana.jpg