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Experimental evidence of the impact of framing of actors and victims in conservation narratives

Shreedhar, Ganga ORCID: 0000-0003-2517-2485 and Thomas-Walters, Laura (2022) Experimental evidence of the impact of framing of actors and victims in conservation narratives. Conservation Biology, 36 (6). ISSN 0888-8892

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Identification Number: 10.1111/cobi.14015


Media narratives play a crucial role in framing marine conservation dilemmas by depicting human actors, such as fish consumers or the fishing industry, as responsible for negative effects of their actions on species and ecosystems. However, there is little evidence documenting how such narratives affect preferences for reducing bycatch. Behavioral science research shows that people can act less prosocially when more actors are responsible for a collective outcome (responsibility diffusion effect) and when more victims need to be helped (compassion fade effect); thus, the media's framing of actors and victims may have a significant effect on preferences. We conducted the first test of responsibility diffusion and compassion fade in a marine context in an online experiment (1548 participants in the United Kingdom). In 9 media narratives, we varied the type of actors responsible for fisheries bycatch (e.g., consumers and industry) and victims (e.g., a single species, multiple species, and ecosystems) in media narratives and determined the effects of the narratives on participants’ support for bycatch policies and intentions to alter fish consumption. When responsibility for negative effects was attributed to consumers and industry, the probability of participants reporting support for fisheries policies (e.g., bycatch enforcement or consumer taxes) was ∼30% higher (odds ratio = 1.32) than when only consumers were attributed responsibility. These effects were primarily driven by female participants. Narratives had no effect on personal intentions to consume fish. Varying the type of victim had no effect on policy support and intentions. Our results suggest that neither responsibility diffusion nor compassion fade automatically follows from increasing the types of actors and victims in media narratives and that effects can depend on the type of outcome and population subgroup.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2022 The Authors
Divisions: Psychological and Behavioural Science
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Date Deposited: 03 Oct 2022 17:21
Last Modified: 12 Dec 2022 13:21

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