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Home arrow Environment arrow Bats in the Anthropocene: Conservation of Bats in a Changing World

Attitudes

Theory

Attitude describes the tendency to think, feel, or act positively or negatively toward objects in our environment (Eagly and Chaiken 1993). Tendency arises because of “an association, in memory, of an evaluation of an object”

(Fazio et al. 1982, p. 341). Whereas values are single beliefs that transcend objects and situations and apply across time, attitudes organize several beliefs around a specific object or situation (Rokeach 1973). In the prevailing multicomponent model of attitude, attitudes are evaluations of an object that comprise three distinct components (Zanna and Rempel 1988; Eagly and Chaiken 1993). The cognitive component encompasses the beliefs and thoughts a person holds about an attitude object and the attributes they associate with it. Whereas bat researchers typically have a positive cognitive response to bats, a member of the public's belief in myths (alternative conceptions) may lead to negative responses and hence attitudes (Prokop and Tunnicliffe 2008; Prokop et al. 2009). The affective component describes the emotions a person feels toward an attitude object. Many people report that bats make them feel scared (e.g., Kahn et al. 2008); they have a negative affective response which can lead to a negative attitude. The behavioral component refers to past behaviors or experiences regarding an attitude object. The multicomponent model of attitude content is informative for educational approaches. As scientists we disdain emotional approaches to research, but this should not bleed into a solely cognitive approach to attitude change. While our training conditions us to address the cognitive component of an attitude, for example by providing information on ecosystem services, or attempting to dispel myths, appealing to affective components and behavioral components may be just as powerful (Pooley and O'Connor 2000) (Sect. 18.4.2.1).

It is also worth noting that an attitude object (bats) may not necessarily hold all three components. For example, a child present at a school visit may hold beliefs about bats and feel positively (or negatively) toward them, but have never encountered them (no behavioral component). Moreover, although associations among components are commonly consistent and even synergist in supporting a particular attitude (Eagly and Chaiken 1993), they can sometimes be inconsistent and even contradictory. This is critical to recognize in the design of conservation messages and interventions. For example, it is possible that someone is aware of and appreciates the ecosystem services that bats provide (positive cognition), but still fears them (negative affect), or has a long history of hunting and eating bats (negative behavior). Thus, appealing to single attitude component will not necessarily lead to a change in attitude, particularly if the other components are stronger. Materials and approaches that are themselves multicomponent may be more effective. For example, the Malaysian Bat Conservation Research Unit produced a comic “Gema's Home” (Benton-Browne and Palmer 2003), a story of an insectivorous bat, Gema (Malay for echo), whose tree roost was being cut down by a local farmer (Mr. Aziz). Gema's distress is palpable, and she appeals to her human friend, a little girl called Nur, for help. Nur and Gema take Mr. Aziz to visit a nectarivorous bat (Polly) and a fruit bat (Fruity), and together they explain the ecosystem services provided by bats and dispel some of the common myths about bats. Mr. Aziz changes his ways and becomes a protector of bats. The cartoon representations and characterizations of the bats are appealing (affective component), and Gema's situation is initially upsetting (affective), but there is explanation of the importance of bats (cognitive). The story is also produced as a shadow puppet show, a traditional performance art in Malaysia, as part of a children's workshop.

Attitudes and attitude components have both valence (positive vs. negative direction of evaluation) and strength. Attitude strength is an important consideration for interventions because strong attitudes are more likely to persist over time, resist change, influence information processing, and predict behavior (Petty and Krosnick 1995; Krosnick and Petty 1995; Holland et al. 2002).

Attitudes are believed to be adaptive, providing a rapid means for processing information and guiding behavior in a complex, data-laden environment and serving four broad functions (Smith et al. 1956; Katz 1960; Maio and Haddock 2014). Awareness of attitude functions is important from a conservation education perspective, because function, like the strength of the components described above, influences susceptibility to attitude change and the kinds of persuasive appeals that might work. First, attitudes can provide an object-appraisal function —a summary of the positive and negative attributes of an object to guide how a person should respond to it. Appraisals are commonly based on a utilitarian evaluation—bats provide ecosystem services as agents of pest control, or bats are great bushmeat, but may also derive from a feeling—bats are scary, or bats are cute. Second, attitudes can be used to convey our personal moral values and goals. This value-expressive function is related to our self-concept, and, perhaps not surprisingly, attitudes serving this function tend to be central and strong. Attitudes that facilitate relationships with others serve a social-adjustment function. Attitudes can also function to protect us against internal conflict (ego-defensive or externalization) and to defend our self-esteem (for further discussion see Maio and Haddock 2014).

By way of example, let us consider possible attitude functions toward colonies of flying foxes. Attitudes may be based on a utilitarian object-appraisal function in communities who view the bats as a source of bushmeat or income to feed their families (e.g., Kamins et al. 2014). In other communities, such as the Minahasa and Sangir tribes of northern Sulawesi, flying fox consumption may also be associated with a cultural identity (e.g., Sheherazade and Tsang 2015). Now, the attitude function may be value-expressive or social-adjustment. Contrasting attitudes toward the same bats held by biologists may be based on a utilitarian objectappraisal—bats are pollinators and seed dispersers, bats are sources of viruses that may affect human populations, and/or a deeply held belief that bats have a right to exist and not be hunted (value-expressive function). Value-expressive (core moral values and convictions) and object-appraisal functions seem especially predictive of behavior (Fazio 2000) and resistant to change. For example, Kamins et al. (2014) asked Ghanaian bat hunters and vendors what value bats have for people. Four responses were given—no value (14 %), economic value (30 %), meat (30 %), and both meat and money (26 %), reflecting a highly utilitarian objectappraisal function for their attitude toward bats. A subsequent education intervention highlighting the disease risk associated with hunting and butchering bats and the environmental importance of fruit bats had only modest influence—only 45 % of interviewees reported an intention to stop hunting, butchering, or selling bat bushmeat (Kamins et al. 2014).

Because of the adaptive role attitudes play in dealing with the barrage of information we face every day, not only do they influence behavioral intention, but they also influence how we process information about the attitude object. This is important to be aware of in educational or outreach programs. Attitudes influence what information we pay attention to (selective exposure) (Allport 1935; Frey 1986), with preference for information that fits our existing evaluation (KnoblochWesterwick and Meng 2009); how we evaluate the new information, especially if our existing attitude is strong and hence accessible (Houston and Fazio 1989); and our ability to remember specific information (selective memory) or behaviors. In general, information processing works to minimize cognitive dissonance (Festinger 1957)—the sense of disquiet or mental tension we feel if our behavior or beliefs toward an object are inconsistent. So there is a tendency to select, evaluate, and remember information congruent with our attitudes (otherwise, we have trouble believing in ourselves). In the vernacular, we can think of this as “preaching to the converted” or having our information “fall on deaf ears.”

 
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