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Charisma and Culture

Over 29% of species are threatened by extinction and 477 vertebrates have gone extinct since 1900. People worldwide donate 100s of millions of pounds annually to prevent these extinctions. We know people are more likely to donate money to larger charismatic animals like the tiger. But why do some animals receive so much more conservation attention and funding than others?

tiger.tif

Why are tigers so popular?

We investigated this question, thanks to funding from the National Geographic Society. The results of  this project are now available! In the first study, we found that participants preferred large, multi-coloured and cool-toned imaginary animals, and we could use these characteristics to predict the number of donations given to real animals. You can learn more about the real animals we used, and read about the research here, or watch the short video summary below:

Like all the studies in this project, we used imaginary animals designed by the artist Rory McCann. When trying to investigate why some animals are more popular than others, it's difficult to determine whether people's preferences are as a result of the animal's appearance, or because of things people know about the animals, like how rare they are. As the animals we use are fictional, we can determine whether differences in preferences are due to the appearance of the animals themselves, or due to the information we provide about the fictional animals. 

An example of an imaginary animal drawn by Rory McCann

An example of an imaginary animal drawn by Rory McCann

In the second part of the project, we compared preferences for real and imaginary animals, and gave participants information on the species population size and trend. When shown imaginary animals, there were no people were twice as likely to donate if the imaginary animal had a small population, and four times as likely if it had a declining population, but were not influenced by animal appearance. For real animals people also preferred species with small and declining populations, but we also found people preferred warm-toned birds with forward facing eyes, which contrasts with the lack of effect found for the imaginary animals. You can read the full study here.

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