Study: Effective Communication Strategies For Addressing Wild Animal Suffering
Currently, there is limited research on effective methods for communication about wild animal suffering with the public. Considering this, our study intended to investigate the most effective language for introducing the topic to the public. Our research revealed that the most effective language for encouraging consideration of wild animal suffering does not explicitly refer to human intervention or interference in nature. Instead it co-opts the language of the environmentalist movement. Participants’ receptivity to considering activities like predator control was greatly increased when these activities were framed as humanity stewarding nature, or actively participating in natural processes, rather than intervening in nature. This study revealed that marketing strategies and communication styles have the capability to greatly influence receptiveness to considering active reductions of wild animal suffering. This information can be used for further research into effective models of social change, specifically for the wild animal advocacy front.
Wild animals are among the least considered by animal advocates. There are many potential explanations for the underexposure of wild animal issues. One being that nature is often considered separate from humanity; that is, it is often regarded as untouchable—the suffering in nature is considered to be outside our scope of control or moral obligations. In order to revise these preconceptions about nature, activism with effective communication strategies is necessary if we intend to reach a large amount of people and encourage change. The problem, however, is that many animal advocates may not have the tools, strategies, and information to increase consideration of wild animals. This may greatly impact their ability to influence large amounts of people about the importance of wild animal suffering. Thus, we need to develop effective social marketing techniques and strategies—including design, communication, and planning, to increase the view that reducing wild animal suffering is necessary. Upon careful evaluation and execution of potential effective communication strategies, we hope to apply our findings to further research studies, which will give us the best plan of action for implementing advocacy programs.
The purpose of this study was to determine more effective narratives for influencing and encouraging social change and receptivity to reducing wild animal suffering among the general population. By adjusting the language we use to discuss these issues, responses can drastically change. Our study, which consisted of questions and reading aimed at uncovering receptivity to reducing wild animal suffering was paired with a short informational reading about wild animal welfare and direct interventions in nature. We hypothesized that upon reading the information, we would see a positive change in receptivity and agreeability to wild animal issues.
Our research consisted of a three-part study, presented on Amazon Mechanical Turk. Once participants accepted the work on Mechanical turk, they were directed to a website to complete the research study, which was presented in a survey format. We created three different surveys. Each survey consisted of three questions, which were kept constant and functioned as the control. Participants could only complete one of the three surveys. Each survey had a different informational reading. Our independent variable was maintained by using different readings in each part of this study. While these readings varied in keywords, they were kept conceptually similar in order to reduce the potential for confounding variables. The language of the specific actions humans could take to reduce suffering in the wild was kept constant. Upon reading the informational excerpts in each study, the three original questions were posed again for the participant to answer. The dependent variables were the resulting levels of agreement to the original questions, scaled from 1-5, with 1 being strongly disagree and 5 being strongly agree.
In order to ensure full participation within the study, a question was inserted at the end of the survey. This consisted of a long reading with an instruction to select “5” on the agreeability scale. If a participant failed to select “5”, their response was discarded. This helped verify accuracy in the data collection.
1371 participants in the US voluntarily opted to be part of this research study. Compensation of $0.25 was given upon completion of the survey. Demographic information was collected - including gender, age, political stance, level of education, residential setting, and profession. Demographic information was widely consistent across all three of our surveys.
Each survey began with three questions. Question One asked, “Should humanity take steps to reduce the suffering of wild animals, even if these steps involve significant changes to nature and ecosystems as we know them today?” Question Two asked, “Should humanity redesign ecosystems in order to create habitats with lower rates of infection, disease, and predation for wild animals, even if this process involves reducing or eliminating some species?” Lastly, Question Three asked, “Should humanity take steps to decrease the suffering of wild animals in nature by removing or reducing the number of predators, and directly managing prey species to prevent overpopulation?” The purpose of these first three control questions was to determine the amount of agreeability to certain issues prior to giving further knowledge to the research participants.
After participants finished the questionnaire, they were provided with a short informational reading about progressive action on animal wild suffering. The First Prompt’s reading was as follows:
Nature is generally unpleasant for wild animals - most die of disease, starvation, or predation. In the near future, humans might have the capacity to intervene in nature and end some of these diseases, or remove predators from ecosystems. Because we can intervene in nature for the better, we have an obligation to, even if that means we won't preserve the ecosystems that exist today. This might involve removing predators that cause high amounts of harm, and don't contribute to ecological balance. Or, it might involve curing diseases that harm billions of wild animals. Nature changes on its own - humans have an obligation to intervene in that change, and make sure that nature changes for the better.
The reading in the Second Prompt stated,
Human beings are not separate from nature. Our actions will always affect nature, and we will always be part of the natural world. But nature is generally unpleasant for the animals who live in the wild - the vast majority of wild animals die of disease, starvation, or predation. Humans can participate in ecosystems actively, instead of passively. Humans are already part of natural systems - it is our obligation to participate in them actively to reduce the suffering of wild animals. This might involve removing predators that cause high amounts of harm, and don’t contribute to ecological balance. Or, it might involve curing diseases that harm billions of wild animals. We have an obligation to participate in ecosystems actively, to improve them for their inhabitants.
Lastly, the reading in the Third Prompt was,
Humans are unique among Earth’s species. Our intelligence and capacity for understanding how systems work gives us a unique capacity to steward and improve them. And nature, as a system, is not working - wild animals die at massive rates from disease, starvation, and predation. Humans have an obligation to steward nature, not to keep it as it is today, but to push it to be better for the wild animals that make it their home. This might involve removing predators that cause high amounts of harm, and don’t contribute to ecological balance. Or, it might involve curing diseases that harm billions of wild animals. Humanity has an obligation to steward nature, and improve the welfare of wild animals.
Upon completion of the reading, the same three questions used at the beginning of the study were asked again. This was to determine if the communication style and phrasing of the readings had any impact on participants’ perceptions of the issues. Finally, demographic questions were asked in order to assess how potential psychosocial, political, and environmental factors may influence interest in these issues.
After introducing the unique informational reading within each survey, the agreeability on Question One markedly decreased for all three prompts. The first question, therefore, was least successful at retaining participant receptivity since it was the only question that resulted in a decrease in agreeability after introduction of the informative reading.
Further analysis (figures 1-3) indicates that Questions Two and Three had an increase in agreeability after the reading for all prompts. There is a steady and even increase in agreeability for Questions Two and Three after the participants completed the readings, despite the fact that in each prompt, the language of the readings varied.
Another notable observation is that Prompts Two and Three had noticeably less reductions in agreeability with Question One after introducing the readings as compared to Prompt One. Question One resulted in a -17.8% decrease in agreeability for Prompt One, a -8.1% decrease for Prompt Two, and a -5.3% decrease for Prompt Three. There was much greater retention of agreeability in Prompts Two and Three. Prompts Two and Three also produced a greater increase in agreeability among Questions Two and Three.
The following are the results of a two-tailed Wilcoxon signed-rank test. Our results were very significant with the exception of Prompt 1, Question 2, where we fell just below 95% confidence.
This study presented wild animal issues to the general public in order to uncover the most effective communication strategy. The criteria that was used to determine efficacy included the % agreeability of the participants across all Prompts, the % change of agreeability across all Questions, and retention of agreeability before and the reading was provided within the survey. Our data provided valuable information related to the efficacy of certain words and phrases as marketing strategies for inducing social change.
The first valuable piece of information that we obtained from this study was the importance of strategic phrasing of questions. The three questions at the beginning of our survey not only functioned as our control, but as a means to measure the quality of the statements. The responses to our control questions indicated that language plays a significant role in determining how receptive individuals are to supporting certain causes. Our first control question, which asked if individuals are in favor of changing ecosystems to reduce suffering, received the most support - compared to the other control questions. From this information, we can conclude that the generality of this question was easier to accept than the other two questions, considering that no further information about the issue was provided in the control.
Perhaps the most interesting finding of our study was that Prompts Two and Three had the highest increase in agreement after the reading for Questions Two and Three, and the least decrease in agreement for Question One. This means that Prompts Two and Three, which alluded to being “stewards of” or “participants in” nature were significantly more effective than suggesting we “intervene” in nature. Being a steward in nature, we propose, may illicit more pleasant reactions than if people are suspecting they are imposing, intervening or disrupting nature. For this reason, we recognize the language of stewardship and participation as more effective, and the language of intervention as less effective. Additionally, after receiving more information about the issue through the informational reading, participants’ agreement with the first question decreased, while their agreement with the second and third questions, which contained specific examples and solutions, increased. This suggests that providing a short educational resource equipped the participants with some knowledge on the issues and influenced them to support more specific causes of action. Perhaps, then, an appropriate way of initiating social change is to educate the public prior to requesting support on major issues. Given this information, we can conclude that after the readings participants agreed more with those statements that included direct courses of actions - which indicates that the public is more likely to agree with statements that offer direct and specific solutions to issues it is presented with.
Another valuable implication of this study is recognizing the capability for attitude change, which is evident in the changes in agreement before the reading and after the reading. This information suggests that even with a novel social change model, there is still potential for changing opinions, as long as the language is effective.
The results of this study will be useful for future research in social marketing, animal advocacy, and social change. Given the novel nature of this movement, these data will be immensely helpful in discerning the best avenue to sustain the progression of the movement. It should be noted that the intent of this study was not to determine the absolute best speech to use when framing these issues, but rather to figure out how to improve the language in order yield the most receptivity and support. Going forward, split tests will further indicate the most constructive language to use when communicating these issues. Additionally, longitudinal studies may also give us insight into participants adherence to their beliefs, or a shift in beliefs, once they are provided with even more information on these issues.
This three-part study provided us with valuable information regarding the effective methods for social change on wild animal issues. Peoples’ attentiveness and support for wild animal welfare issues changed depending on how the issues were communicated. This study suggests there is room for changing public popular opinion by moving away from the language of intervention, and using the language of participation and stewardship. While our hypothesis was only partially supported—due to Question One experiencing a decrease in agreeability—we were still able to collect more social marketing strategies than we anticipated. We are optimistic that the conclusions reached in this study, as well as those results that will be obtained in future studies, will give us a strong idea to the most effective method for communicating wild animal issues in order to advocate for change.