Reactions to changes in biodiversity

Available on 7 October 2020

Reports highlighting biodiversity loss may not have the desired impact

Several high profile reports have presented evidence of a dramatic decline in biodiversity. Despite this threat, we know little about how people are reacting and responding to the decline.

This paper explored these issues in two experiments that systematically altered the levels of biodiversity loss reported, and balanced this with ‘good news’ stories of localised biodiversity gains for comparison.

In the first, 16 condition experiment, student participants in the United States (n = 393) were given a hypothetical ecological survey that reported on different levels of decrease and increases in bird species at a key migratory site between 1996-2016.

The second study used the same design and a general population sample in the UK (n = 570) but focused on marine (blue space) biodiversity. Affective reactions to news of biodiversity change over the 10 years were measured to explore the predictions of prospect theory – which argues that losses tend to have greater impacts on people’s emotions than gains, though with diminishing effects (i.e. very large losses do not produce effects much larger than small losses).

Contrary to prospect theory, both studies found that people’s reactions to biodiversity losses were weaker than their reactions to positive stories about biodiversity gains; gains ‘loomed larger’ than losses.

Although people high (vs low) in nature connectedness were more concerned about biodiversity loss, they showed the same bias towards good news stories.

The authors suggest that repeated bad news stories with respect to biodiversity are leading to ‘concern fatigue’ and that weaving good news stories into discussions about biodiversity may help people to engage with the broader issue.

Read the full report here.

Full citation

Mathew P. White, Gregory Bratman, Sabine Pahl, Gerald Young, Deborah Cracknell, & Lewis R. Elliott, Affective reactions to losses and gains in biodiversity: Testing a prospect theory approach, Journal of Environmental Psychology,