Worth more than 1000 words: How photographs can bolster viewers’ valuing of biodiversity


Gehlbach, H., Robinson, C. D., Vriesema, C. C., Bernal, E., & Heise, U. K. (Working paper). Worth more than 1000 words: How photographs can bolster viewers’ valuing of biodiversity. 

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Many individuals struggle to see, comprehend, and care about the planet’s accelerating loss of biodiversity. Scholars suggest that the impact of declining biodiversity remains emotionally and psychologically distant (Curnock et al., 2019)—similar to how many perceive climate change (Schuldt, Rickard, & Yang, 2018). Yet, because people see representations of species and habitats routinely throughout their daily lives, images could offer opportunities to make this issue feel less psychologically distant and/or more emotionally resonant. Through a combination of pre-registered and exploratory hypotheses, this study tests whether photographs of plants and animals can bolster people’s valuing of biodiversity and affect their corresponding behaviors. Using an online sample (N = 843), we assess how two treatment groups who viewed photographs (with and without captions) compare to a control group in their valuing of biodiversity and willingness to donate to a nature-focused charity. We show that participants who viewed photographs without captions not only valued biodiversity more but also gave more in donations to the nature-focused charity. The negative emotions arising from the photographs may partially explain the impact of this treatment; reduced psychological distance does not.

Keywords: Communication, Climate change, Biodiversity, Photographs, Global warming, Climate science




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Christine Vriesema