Current Projects

Cross- Cultural Public Goods Games

A public good is a resource that is available to anyone in a community, but it is a resource that needs to be used sustainably overtime in order to be maintained. Wildlife and ecosystems are public goods that are often available for anyone’s use, but if they are exploited unsustainably, they are decimated over time.

To examine how people make decisions about public goods, psychologists and behavioral economists have conducted controlled studies known as public goods games. My research uses modified public goods games to analyze how communities develop behaviors to maintain resources like forests and the species within them. In particular, I study how populations develop behaviors that support the conservation of African great apes. I conduct all my public goods games in the populations that are the greatest stakeholders in the conservation of these species: The Democratic Republic of the Congo, China, and the United States. 

Through my studies, I try to understand what best motivates these communities to contribute to the conservation of great apes. My initial studies on this topic are theoretical in nature, but they are unique in that they focus purely on behavior change. The results of these studies can be applied to improving conservation education programs and marketing initiatives that aim to increase support for wildlife conservation goals for great apes, and other public goods more broadly.

Assessing Conservation Education Programs

Conservation education is essential to fostering the next generation of champions of animals and their ecosystems. However, assessing the effectiveness of existing conservation education programs is a difficult task. How do we know if an experience at a zoo or a wildlife sanctuary leads to pro-conservation behavior in the short-term and, more important, in the long-term?

The conventional strategy for conservation education assessment is to evaluate visitors’ knowledge and attitudes towards wildlife, using measures that explicitly ask them about their experiences and beliefs. Research from psychology suggests that these methods are not the most effective evaluation strategies. I focus on developing more implicit ways to assess how organizations impact pro-conservation behavior. Additionally, my research of conservation education program is unique in that it focuses on behavior change, not simply attitude change or knowledge enhancement.

Marketing Strategies for Conservation NGOs

There are hundreds of non-profits around the world that aim to improve the well-being of endangered species. A common focus of all of these organizations is encouraging donors to contribute more money, time and effort to support their causes.  How can we help these organizations boost the success of their campaign efforts? I employ strategies commonly used among corporations, such as A/B website testing and other website optimization services. I test conventional messaging strategies against strategies informed by psychology and behavioral economics that have evidence-based potential to boost pro-conservation behaviors among target populations. As with all my work, I conduct my studies cross-culturally in the United States, Central Africa and China to optimize the reach of effective psychology-based communicative strategies that benefit wildlife conservation.