Protecting the planet through conservation psychology

Protecting the planet through conservation psychology


>>SUSAN CLAYTON: My name’s Susan Clayton
and I’m a conservation psychologist. Conservation psychology is the use of all areas of psychology
to try to better understand the human relationship with the natural world and then to use that
knowledge to try and protect and conserve our natural resources. Science is why I wanted to become a psychologist
because I really love data. I love the idea that you can ask questions and then you can
get data to answer them or you can formulate hypotheses and then you can test the hypotheses.
What I wanted to do was really ask questions and then use scientific research to answer
those questions. I had had a personal interest in nature that
I didn’t associate at all with psychology as I was being trained as a psychologist and
I began to realize that there was a real psychological significance to nature that I hadn’t appreciated
beforehand. So, just from a theoretical point of view, I really wanted to explore that. What I’m particularly interested in is the
kind of personal and social significance of the natural world. So why does it matter to
people, in terms of their identity and how they think about themselves? And also, how
does the natural world exist in social interactions? One of the most important characteristics
of human thinking is that we tend to focus on the short term – and this made sense
in the environment in which we were evolving because surviving to the next day was the
most important thing. Now that we can be pretty sure that we are not going to get eaten by
tigers overnight and that we will have enough food to survive for the next week or two,
we really need to think about the future, but we’re just not in the habit of doing
so. So I think the best way to try and get beyond that bias is to somehow link the future
to things that people care about more immediately. I’ve done a lot of research at zoos. People
go to the zoo. They’re experiencing wild animals – they’re experiencing lush vegetation
and for them it really is nature. So I like to look at the ways in which they respond
to those natural elements. And I do that by just watching them and coding their behavior
– by listening to them and also by surveying them and asking them direct questions. I have concluded, based on my observations,
for one, the majority of people are happy and they’re having a good time. The second
thing that I’ve learned is that people are trying to connect with the animals in some
way. They value their interactions with animals and they have these interactions with them
in a social context. They’re using the animal to have an interaction with the other person.
And what that interaction allows is a communication of shared values. One thing that my research seems to be indicating
is that the signs that describe the animals can affect the way that people respond to
the animals in a way that makes them receptive to a conservation message. Right now, there’s a wildlife exhibit at
a zoo in Chengdu, China, which was designed partly on the basis of some data I collected
a few summers ago there about people’s attitudes towards the wildlife trade. And the hope is
that this exhibit will actually change people’s attitudes – lead them to be more active
against the wildlife trade and therefore protect the animals. If we can have even a small effect
on the Chinese zoo-going audience, given how many people there are in China, it could be
translated into a very big effect. The idea that research in conservation psychology
can help to inform better messaging is really exciting to me. To emphasize and in fact,
protect nature can actually not just be good for nature, but it can be a very rewarding
and satisfying experience and contribute to your own sense of connectedness and to your
own well-being in some sense. One of the areas of research that’s really
booming in the past 10 or 15 years is research demonstrating that feeling connected to nature,
being outside in nature, has a positive impact on people. It reduces their stress – it
makes them happier, perhaps more productive. Even more physically healthy. They’ll live
longer. They have better social relationships. That’s part of the message that people need
to have. It’s just that nature is important to our ability to live healthy and satisfying
lives. I went into psychology because people are
just endlessly fascinating. I have a much higher opinion of people based on psychological
research because I know how capable people are of kindness and the desire for justice
and empathy. Every time I’m doing research, I find things that surprise me. What I love
most about my work has to be the potential to make a difference. It’s just so satisfying
to think that things I learn can be applied to actually change people’s behavior – that
my research might actually help in a small way to protect the environment and therefore
to provide healthy environments for people and wildlife into the future. And that’s
science in action.

3 Replies to “Protecting the planet through conservation psychology”

  1. How can linking Earth’s long-term future to a present-day issue encourage more people to save and protect the planet? #EarthDay

  2. stop using chemicals in our natural world it effects our natural bodies and elements of our natural world! Nature has plenty of healing aspects from mind and body 🙂 Zoos are nice but what about the animals they are not in their natural element. These animals are not meant to live in a zoo, humans try to connect with these animals because they are lacking knowledge on what these animals need and how they need to be in nature. I am not saying zoos are bad but it is in no way protecting the environment by taming to a point these wild animals through cages :(.

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