The Psychology of Human Relations to Wildlife: Factors and Processes Contributing to Intense and Polarized Reactions to Wild Animals
- Doctoral Thesis
Rights / licenseCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International
Human-wildlife interactions evoke strong emotions, and people’s opinions on wild animals and on their management starkly differ, causing heated and controversial societal debates. In this doctoral project, I have conducted basic research on the question of why and how that affective intensity and the polarization of people’s responses to wildlife are generated. I have chosen wolves, corvids, and spiders as model cases of controversial wildlife because the comparison of ecologically disparate animals allows for identifying overarching dynamics in human-wildlife relations. I have analyzed extant literature on these model animals in a meta-ethnographic approach, and collected empirical data through in-depth interviews with 20 stakeholders. In this thesis, I report on five investigations that contribute to answering the main research question: I) In an eclectic literature review on natural and social scientific, as well as cultural works, I show that despite their dissimilar ecologies, wolves, corvids and spiders are portrayed in similar ways. I propose that congruent perceptions of these animals may be caused since wolves, corvids, and spiders concurrently raise questions regarding humans’ role in nature, activate a motivation for exerting or ceding control, and evoke symbolic associations to “darkness”. II) I elucidate the associations to darkness evoked by wildlife, considering wolves as an example. By reference to portrays of wolves in selected media reports, I depict how negative feelings towards wolves partly correspond to aspects of actual wolf behavior, which meet humans’ definition of evilness. These associations jointly feed into the stereotype of a Big Bad Wolf that may contribute to the emotional intensity seen in the societal debates about wolves. III) Again focusing on wolves as a paradigmatic case of controversial wildlife, a multi-method approach provides qualitative as well as quantitative evidence for the impact of nature- and wildlife- related value orientations and beliefs on people’s responses to wildlife. My co-authors and I carve out how the different narratives that people hold about nature in general and about wolves in particular map onto the management options they favor. Specifically, we identify a continuum of value orientations ranging from a “beings-focused, harmony-oriented, wolf-favoring” extreme to a “human-focused, dominion-oriented, wolf-critical” extreme, that correlates with a continuum of management directives that ranges from an “allowing” to a “controlling” pole. IV) Comparing the case of wolves with the other two model animals, I present a particular dynamic impacting human-wildlife encounters: People's feeling of being personally targeted by wild animals' behavior. The perception of wildlife as holding intentions towards humans individually or collectively, emotionally charges human-wildlife interactions in both positive and negative ways and thus contributes to people’s intense and polarized reactions to wildlife. I identify 12 intentions attributed to wildlife that can be reduced to four essential motivational states ascribed to wildlife: rebellion against human dominance, menace of humans or their belongings, relationality offered to people, and the absence of human-focused intentions. V) Integrating these findings and corroborating them with further deductive as well as inductive data analyses, I derive a framework for explaining in detail how a person’s response to wildlife is formed through the interaction of three layers of influences: Person-specific factors – such as a person’s biography, idiosyncratic life themes, and utopian visions – combine with species-specific factors – mediated by an individual’s representation of a wildlife species –, and with overarching factors such as their ideas about humans' role in nature, their individual motivation for control, and their relations to the shadow-aspects within themselves. Thus, a person’s stance to a wildlife species is generated, which coalesces or conflicts with other individuals’ views, bringing forth the intense and polarized debates on wildlife and on wildlife management that we see on the societal scale. In sum, the comparison of human relations to three biologically disparate wild animals evidences that human-wildlife conflicts and avenues to human-wildlife coexistence hinge not exclusively on the objective challenges raised by wildlife behavior. Instead, human psychology interacts with wildlife ecology, bringing forth representations of wild animals and perceptions of wildlife behavior conducive to either conflict or coexistence of humans and wildlife. Show more
External linksSearch print copy at ETH Library
ContributorsExaminer: Patt, Anthony
Examiner: Hunziker, Marcel
Examiner: Hackett, Paul M. W.
Examiner: Strassberg, Daniel
SubjectHuman-Wildlife-Conflicts; Human-Wildlife-Coexistence; Wolves; Corvids; Spiders; Human Dimensions; Attitudes; Wildlife; Values; Beliefs; Environmental Psychology; Environmental Humanities; Qualitative Research
Organisational unit09451 - Patt, Anthony G. / Patt, Anthony G.
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