Behavioral Sciences Receive Major Push at WWF and Nat Geo’s Fuller Symposium

This lion picture is meant to remind you about National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative. Lion by Maciej. CC BY-SA 2.0

Since I started following big cat conservation over three years ago, I have seen many calls for biological and social scientists to work together. Nearly all environmental problems stem from human behavior, so getting people to act differently has to be a major part of wildlife conservation. On December 4, 2017, leading professionals came together to affirm the importance of the behavioral sciences for conservation.

On that date, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and National Geographic co-hosted the annual Fuller Symposium. This is a meeting about the most pressing issues in conservation. This past Fuller Symposium was all about the value of behavioral sciences.

The symposium lasted for two days, and covered various topics related to understanding and changing human behavior. The symposium’s happenings have already been summarized well, both by National Geographic and by Dr. Amy Bucher (writing for UX Planet). While both articles are good, I found Dr. Bucher’s to be especially helpful.

Dr. Bucher succinctly broke down the key talks of the Fuller Symposium. They covered subjects such as:

  • The influence of identity and values,
  • How environmental behaviors are affected by broader social systems,
  • The importance of eliciting empathy through stories,
  • Meeting people where they are (instead of trying to get them to adopt your viewpoint),
  • And more.

Several of the above topics are of interest to me. As long time followers of The Jaguar and its Allies might know, I previously wrote a series of posts about social identity theory. I am still curious about how social identity impacts wildlife conservation, and I would like to learn more about such research.

A photo I have used several times to illustrate the concept of social identity. Patriotic fans on The Mall by Not Enough Megapixels. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I have also started to become more intrigued by the power of stories. I am growing increasingly convinced that I could make a better science communicator than I could a ‘pure’ scientist. As such, I am spending more and more time wondering how to use today’s media technologies to get the public involved in wildlife conservation. Many of the talks described under the “Empathy is a change agent” section of Dr. Bucher’s article would have helped me answer this question. But even though I was not at the Fuller Symposium, I can still listen to those talks.

The WWF has kindly posted the Fuller Symposium’s agenda on this website, as well as links to the recorded videos of many of the talks. As far as I can tell, the videos are all free. These really are cutting-edge discussions, and I hope you will take a few mintues to learn more about the intersection of wildlife conservation and behavioral science.

Further Reading:

At The Fuller Symposium, Behavioral Science Takes Center Stage – National Geographic

How Can Psychology Save the Planet? Bringing Behavior Change Science to Conservation. – Dr. Amy Bucher

The Nature of Change: The Science of Influencing Behavior – World Wildlife Fund

5 Thoughts

  1. Nice piece, Josh! It is sad to say that science changes nothing without the ability to communicate that science in a way that is meaningful to people in the frontline communities as well as government. I also believe that solving the human problem will take us forward in solving environmental concerns. When communities have dignity from good food, clean water, healthcare and an opportunity to use education and employment to advance the social standing of their children then the need to poach or destroy will fade. It isn’t just about changing behaviour, it is about creating the conditions for change in people’s circumstances. Check out the work of photographers Paul Niklen and Cristina Mittermeier as they seek to change attitudes through images and stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m definitely going to check out those photographers. Creating the conditions necessary for change is hugely important; in many cases that relates to systemic factors. Many people’s behavior is constrained by factors largely out of their control, like the demand for cash crops or other goods in the US and Europe. The same types of power inequalities that allow poverty and political marginalization to thrive often encourage environmental degradation. So yes, addressing the systemic factors that encourage people to act in environmentally destructive ways is absolutely critical.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Spot on! As a side note, In my day job I somewhat deal with behavioural change. I’ve been blessed to meet some real leaders in the field of behaviour change and transformation of individuals and groups. The one certainty is that we do not change a person’s behaviour. Only the person themselves can do that and it has to be a choice. Telling compelling stories that are important and relevant is one of the key pillars that supports the choosing to change.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s one of the things that drew me towards humanistic psychology when I was studying counseling. The emphasis wasn’t on the therapist’s skill and mastery of specialized techniques, but on their ability to create an environment that made the client feel safe and helped them find their own ‘voice.’

          And yes, compelling stories can do a lot of good – partly by reducing listeners’ resistance to new information.

          Liked by 1 person

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