The influence of risk on patterns of illegal activity in a hunted landscape in West Liberia

Sorrel’s PhD project uses insights from behavioural psychology and cognitive sciences to design better ways of reducing bushmeat use in West Africa.

Photo credit: Sorrel Jones

My research explores ways to improve conservation tools that tackle the bushmeat hunting crisis in West Africa. Specifically, I’m interested in how to improve monitoring by using interview-based methods, and how to leverage insights from behavioural psychology and cognitive sciences to improve the design of interventions.

Behavioural psychology tells us that decision-making is often irrational and is affected by individual differences

To be more effective at changing human behaviour, conservationists need better models describing how people respond to livelihood options and the enforcement of rules. In the past we have tended to focus on economic costs and benefits to model decision-making, but behavioural psychology tells us that decision-making is often irrational and is affected by individual differences in traits such as risk attitudes. I’m interested in what this perspective could tell us about the best way to design livelihood interventions, using a case study in the Gola Forest, W. Liberia.

My study site is a community-based conservation project being implemented by the RSPB through their partners, the Society for Conservation of Nature in Liberia. With support from RSPB, I’m field-testing survey methods that control for sensitivity bias (i.e. the problem that asking people about illegal activities may not get you an honest answer), and exploring how individual differences in psychological traits might influence the outcome of conservation interventions.

Investigator

Sorrel Jones

Supervisors

Sarah Papworth (Royal Holloway, University of London, Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour)

Aidan Keane (University of Edinburgh, School of GeoSciences)

Freya St John (Bangor University, School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography)

Juliet Vickery (RSPB, Centre of Conservation Science)

Funding

Royal Holloway, University of London & RSPB

Collaborating organisations

RSPB Liberia