Emotions in salient thought about wildlife

M.H. Jacobs, J.J. Vaske, M. Vermeij

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Human dimensions of wildlife research has predominantly focused on cognitive aspects, such as wildlife value orientations, attitudes toward wildlife, or norms for wildlife management actions. The importance of affective aspects for understanding relationships, however, has recently been recognized, as emotions form an important basis for human thinking about and action toward wildlife. This paper explores the role of emotion in people’s thinking about wildlife. The research questions were: (1) how important are emotions in people’s salient thought about wildlife, and (2) which emotions are associated with various species? Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 Dutch and 20 South-African interviewees, who were asked to share their spontaneous thoughts about wildlife in general and about seven specific species, and to rate those species in terms of emotional dispositions. One quarter of the interviewees spontaneously mentioned emotions toward wildlife in general. Emotions were brought up in half of the spontaneous stories about specific species. Of the specific species, snakes, sharks, elephants and lions elicited emotion-laden statements in most respondents (53% to 95%), much more than deer, ducks and rabbits did (18% to 35%). Since the former species were more relevant for the survival of our far ancestors than the latter, this result might imply that emotions have emerged in the course of evolution as an adaptation that fosters survival. Fear was the most frequently mentioned emotion for these four species; these species were also rated as evoking a higher arousal level than the other species. The role of emotions in salient thought was larger for South-Africans (64% of the stories) than for Dutch people (36%), which might be a consequence of the abundance of wildlife in South-Africa. These results can help wildlife managers to anticipate public debates, as it is likely that species that are emotionally important to people evoke strong attitudes toward management interventions.


ConferenceISSRM 2011 Madison Conference, 17th International Symposium on Society and Resource Management - Integrating Conservation and Sustainable Living, Madison, Wisconsin, USA


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