Using Social Contract Theory to Explain Acceptability of Lethal Control of Wildlife

Oct. 12, 2020

This past January, Dr. Alia Dietsch was the second of three recipients to receive funding from CHAIRE’s RFPs for her project titled “Killing to Conserve? Using social contract theory to explain acceptability of lethal control of wildlife.” The funding included four semesters of stipend and tuition for Shelby Carlson to continue her PhD program within the School of Environment and Natural Resources.

The study seeks to determine if support for lethal control (killing) of wildlife can be explained by applying rules of social exchange. More specifically, the team wants to identify whether people support lethal control in certain contexts, such as when livestock or pets are harmed, because people view wild animals as social creatures who need to ‘play by the rules’ (a type of social contract). Any violations of the rules will result in a consequence (e.g., lethal removal). To-date all data collection has been conducted solely online; therefore, the team is unaware of any direct impacts due to COVID-19 thus far. A pre-test of their survey instrument has been completed through the Environmental and Social Sustainability Research Experience Program, a subject pool of undergraduate students enrolled in courses offered in the School of Environment and Natural Resources. More than 200 students have responded and preliminary analyses show promising results in the ability to test the novel application of social contract theory to human thought and decision-making, which has significant implications regarding why people humanize (or anthropomorphize) wild animals and how those animals should be treated.

CHAIRE is very happy to support this exciting project to further our understanding of the many interactions that occur with wildlife, including human-wildlife contact. We look forward to sharing more progress about this project in the future!