Education Enhances Attitudes About Rattlesnakes

In a research project led by Masters student Erin Allison, we evaluated how different messaging strategies can improve attitudes about rattlesnakes.

We used an online survey to evaluate the perceptions of a diverse group of 1,182 US adults before and after they watched either a relational or instrumental video about rattlesnakes. The relational video showcased rattlesnakes as creatures with complex social behaviors, emphasizing their roles as caring mothers and their interactions with other snakes. The instrumental video, in contrast, highlighted the role rattlesnakes play in the environment and the ecosystem services they provide.

Rattlesnakes Have Social Lives and Care for Their Babies. The relational video used in the study showcased rattlesnakes as creatures with complex social behaviors, emphasizing their roles as caring mothers and their interactions with other snakes.

Rattlesnakes Play Important Roles in the Ecosystem. The instrumental video used in the study, which highlighted the role rattlesnakes play in the environment and the ecosystem services they provide.

Both videos positively influenced people’s perceptions of rattlesnakes. However, the instrumental message resulted in a larger improvement in perception compared to the relational message, which significantly affected only females, agnostics, Baby Boomers, and Generation-Z. Emphasizing the ecological importance and practical benefits of rattlesnakes may be the most effective approach to improve their reputation for most audiences.

Our findings highlight the vital role of education in improving attitudes toward maligned animals and the importance of understanding audience demographics when developing communication strategies for wildlife conservation. We also provide valuable insights for developing targeted message strategies to enhance public perceptions of rattlesnakes and other less popular wildlife species.

EB Allison, EN Taylor, ZA Graham, M Amarello, JJ Smith, and ZJ Loughman. 2024. Effects of relational and instrumental messaging on human perception of rattlesnakes. PLOS ONE 19(4): e0298737. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0298737