How do Personal Values Affect Attitudes about the Environment?

The Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio
Tax Deductible
Raised of $1,500 Goal
Ended on 11/03/14
Campaign Ended
  • $71
  • 5%
  • Finished
    on 11/03/14

About This Project

For the past 25 years people have argued over whether snowmobiling belongs in Yellowstone Park. This case reflects a growing number of controversies over recreational vehicle use on public land. I am interested in studying opinions about these issues, with a special focus on the persuasive messages from environmentalists and their opponents. I hope this project gives us insight into how political messages shape our views about the environment.

Ask the Scientists

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What is the context of this research?

It is clear that personal values influence views on politics. Egalitarians, for example, favor social welfare policies, while individualists favor free-market solutions. We still do not have a clear picture of how values come to be associated with specific issue positions, and how people respond when values come into conflict. Environmental controversies often expose a conflict between economic security and environmental protection. Many people place high priority on both values, and therefore find it difficult to choose between them.

I believe that political communication helps people resolve value conflicts and make political decisions. While there has been much research done on persuasion, we need a better understanding of how political messages bring certain values into prominence.

What is the significance of this project?

Controversy has been bubbling since the 1990s over whether, or to what extent, snowmobiling should be permitted in Yellowstone. The Yellowstone controversy represents a larger set of disputes over recreational vehicle use on public lands. Some scholars have described these disputes as "wicked," meaning that the competing positions are deeply entrenched, and compromise is elusive. A better understanding of some of the communication tactics deployed by competitors might help strip away the rhetoric and expose the true values at stake.

On the psychological side, I am interested in improving our understanding of the ways that political messages influence us. My approach emphasizes the role of values, and how the impact of values on attitudes is guided by messages from political communicators.

What are the goals of the project?

I will use funds to recruit people to participate in an online experiment. During the experiment, participants will:

  1. Read a newspaper story that provides background about the snowmobile controversy
  2. Receive a message that makes an argument for or against a ban on snowmobiling in Yellowstone, using specific argument forms.
  3. Express their own personal attitudes about a ban on snowmobiling in Yellowstone
  4. Make judgments about the importance and relevance of values like economic security and environmental protection.
One example of an argument form is social cueing. In social cueing, the communicator attacks the motives and values of their opponents. For example, environmentalists might be described as "radical" or "extreme." I believe language like this will shape value judgments and opinions.


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Money from this request will be used solely to compensate participants in an experiment. I can obtain a sample of people that represents the population of the U.S. for $5 per person. I estimate that I need 300 participants to achieve an adequate test of my hypotheses.

Experiments like this can be performed with undergraduate student participants. There is a strong need, however, for experiments with nonstudent participants. There is much greater variety among the general population in terms of age, education level, and political experience, compared to college students. This factors can play an important role in determining how participants react to my experimental situations.

Fortunately, several companies have done the hard work of recruiting panels of several hundred thousand participants who are willing to take part in research studies. I can draw from these panels to create a sample that fits my needs.

Much of the work for this project has already been done, or can be done for no cost. I have conducted several interviews with activists on both sides of this issue, to get a better sense of the kinds of arguments they use to make their case. These arguments form the basis for my experimental treatments. I can do all the programming for the experiment myself, rather than paying an outside company to do it for me. Therefore, all the funds can be devoted to attracting and compensating participants.

There are no guarantees, of course, but I have used this model of research with much success in the past.

92% of your contribution may be claimed as tax-deductible (as Experiment charges an 8% fee)

Meet the Team

Thomas E. Nelson
Thomas E. Nelson

Team Bio

This project is perfect for me because it combines two long-standing interests: political communication and environmental attitudes. I was trained as a social psychologist, and did basic research on social cognition, but I had a second life studying public opinion and political communication. This background left me with both a micro interest in the psychological origins and processes that give rise to political attitudes, as well as a macro perspective on how political activists create their messages. I feel lucky to work at the intersection of two fascinating fields.

True to my background, I like to run psychological experiments. These often involve undergraduate student participants. This is very useful, but it is also important to collect data from nonstudents. That's why this crowdfunding opportunity is so attractive: it allows me to recruit "regular people" to participate in a true experiment.

Away from work I enjoy the outdoors (naturally) and I take a stab at classical guitar.

Lab Notes

Nothing posted yet.

Additional Information

Here is an example of the kinds of stories I use in my experiments:

USA Today article

Here are some of the organizations involved in this issue:

Pro-snowmobile: Greater Yellowstone Coalition

Anti-snowmobile: Blue Ribbon Coalition

Yellowstone National Park: Yellowstone

Project Backers

  • 3Backers
  • 5%Funded
  • $71Total Donations
  • $23.67Average Donation
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