Human behaviour is the cause of the major threats to biodiversity and there is a need to recognise that conservation is not only about understanding animals and plants, but about people and their behaviour. Nature conservation organisations know this and increasingly look to social and human sciences for solutions. It is a great time for people to supplement their knowledge of the natural world with an understanding of human behaviour, and how to change it.
Sadly, people aren’t particularly rationale, feeding folk with compelling facts about how their actions can adversely impact nature won’t change the behaviour of many – even when presented in a friendly manner. Negatively framed messages can actually have the opposite effect. Behaviour change is more complex, habits don’t change because we inform and ask (or tell). There’s a need for a carefully informed and nuanced approach based on an understanding of psychology.
It is for such reasons that we launched a part-time block-study Masters in Behaviour Change with an Environment and Conservation pathway. The first of its kind, the programme challenges assumptions about behaviour change. It is aimed at people who want to gain new knowledge to support their work, and at graduates from a broad range of disciplines who would like to specialise in behaviour change and add social science to their skill set. The programme covers psychological theories and models so that people can develop a greater understanding of human behaviour and behaviour change.
A small cohort of students have recently completed the programme’s specialist conservation psychology based module. We discussed the foundations of human nature connection from philosophical roots, to the self and human-nature interactions. The benefits of nature (e.g. creativity, restoration, health & wellbeing) and the promotion of nature conservation (e.g. values and frames in conservation communication) were other core topics. It was great to share in their exploration of an area related to human–nature relations of their choosing. The emphasis was understanding and applying the theoretical foundations of human-nature connection to their area of interest, from recycling to landscape management. The final outputs were compelling communications framing the issues in order to encourage and enable people to make better choices for them and nature.