Moral Foundations as Tools to Affect Sustainable Behavior in a Common Pool Fishery Simulation




Bair, Ross Morgan

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The decline of global fisheries is a pending catastrophe. Healthy, well-managed fisheries provide employment, economic and social benefits to many nations across the globe (FAO, 2015). Because of their scope and common pool status, fisheries in the open ocean are difficult to manage. International law has failed to be effective in this task. Moral Foundation Theory suggests approaches to persuasive appeals that may be useful in encouraging sustainable resource use. Moral foundations (MFs) are universal, evolution-based justifications we use to create explanations for our moral reasoning. Conservative and liberal political ideologies are guided differently by moral foundations (Graham et al., 2009). This dissertation analyzes two studies that explore these ideas. The first uses tailored MF appeals (Binding/ conservatives, Individualizing/ liberals) to attempt to encourage sustainable action in an intergenerational, non-excludable, common pool fishing simulation. No detectable effect of these appeals was found on sustainable fishing behavior. In the second part of that study, some participants fished with an unsustainable fisher to see the effect of that interaction. There was no measurable effect of this fisher’s presence in the simulation on participant fishing (Chapter 4).Characterizations by fishers of an unsustainable fisher activated participants’ MFs and showed predictable choice of terms by liberals (binding, plus authority) and conservatives (no preference). Liberals were more likely to use any of the MF terms to describe unsustainable fishers (Chapter 4). The results from study one are inconsistent with observations found in previous studies (Kidwell et al., 2013; Wolsko et al., 2016) that used MFT to create appeals to increase sustainable action. Despite these finding, MFs were not effective as a tool to encourage sustainable fisheries harvesting, these results provide confirmation that environmental resource issues are viewed through much the same lens as other moral issues. Observations from these experiments potentially limit the value of MF appeals to influence sustainable behavior and support other observations of the lack of differences between conservatives and liberals when it comes to MFs (Frimer, 2020).



Environmental science, Communication, Ideology, Mechanical Turk, Moral Foundation Theory, Sustainable