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A new approach to behaviour change with lessons for the illegal wildlife trade

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Consumer demand for unsupported health remedies present numerous harms including opportunity costs, side effects, financial costs, and is a significant driver of the illegal wildlife trade. Several psychological drivers make people susceptible to fraudulent health claims. However, efforts to tackle such beliefs and behaviours tend to be ad-hoc and/or not evidence-based. The result is that many interventions fail, or even occasionally backfire. Designing effective interventions requires incorporating psychological evidence to assist consumers to overcome the psychological barriers preventing them from making rational consumer decisions. Drawing on diverse disciplines including criminology, cognitive psychology, and behavioural economics my research aims to provide a congruent, parsimonious, and falsifiable framework for designing treatments to overcome those barriers. We tested two predictions of our framework using an objective measure of consumer demand, specifically, a series of randomised controlled experiments using incentivised experimental auctions. Our preliminary results show that—by targeting both the illusion of causality and the affect heuristic—our intervention reduced consumer willingness-to-pay for a common, but unsupported, health remedy by ~50%. This research has implications for how conservationists might reduce demand for traditional health remedies made from body parts of endangered wildlife such as rhino horn, bear bile, and pangolin scales.

This talk is part of the Conservation and Behaviour Change seminars series.

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