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Evaluating the impact of the documentary series Blue Planet II on viewers' plastic consumption behaviors


The global scale of the ocean plastics crisis demands a collective change in plastic consumption behaviors. The documentary series Blue Planet II has been praised for driving changes in consumer behaviors by raising awareness about this issue, yet there is little evidence that directly links the documentary to viewers' plastic consumption. We investigated the effectiveness of Blue Planet II as a behavior change intervention by conducting randomized control trials and used revealed preferences to measure plastic consumption behaviors. Although environmental knowledge was found to be positively influenced by Blue Planet II, this did not translate into a behavioral change among participants. Our results support the hypothesis that, due to the complexities of human behavior, exposure to a single documentary is unlikely to lead to a distinct increase in individual pro‐environmental actions. However, the potential for Blue Planet II to have an impact at a wider societal level, namely through influencing policy, remains unexplored.
Evaluating the impact of the documentary series Blue
Planet II on viewers' plastic consumption behaviors
Matilda Eve Dunn
| Morena Mills
| Diogo Veríssimo
Department of Life Science, Imperial
College London, Berkshire, UK
Centre for Environmental Policy,
Imperial College London, London, UK
Department of Zoology and Oxford
Martin School, University of Oxford,
Oxford, UK
Matilda Eve Dunn, Imperial College
London, Silwood Park Campus,
Buckhurst Road, Berkshire SL5 7PY, UK.
Funding information
Imperial College London
The global scale of the ocean plastics crisis demands a collective change in
plastic consumption behaviors. The documentary series Blue Planet II has been
praised for driving changes in consumer behaviors by raising awareness about
this issue, yet there is little evidence that directly links the documentary to
viewers' plastic consumption. We investigated the effectiveness of Blue Planet
II as a behavior change intervention by conducting randomized control trials
and used revealed preferences to measure plastic consumption behaviors.
Although environmental knowledge was found to be positively influenced by
Blue Planet II, this did not translate into a behavioral change among partici-
pants. Our results support the hypothesis that, due to the complexities of
human behavior, exposure to a single documentary is unlikely to lead to a dis-
tinct increase in individual pro-environmental actions. However, the potential
for Blue Planet II to have an impact at a wider societal level, namely through
influencing policy, remains unexplored.
behavior change, Blue Planet II, conservation messaging, marine pollution, nature documentary,
ocean plastics, theory of planned behavior
Marine litter, particularly plastic debris, is an emerging
and critical environmental issue (Hartley et al., 2018),
occurring as a result of human actions (Pahl, Wyles, &
Thompson, 2017). Therefore to address plastic pollution,
alongside the implementation of environmentally con-
scious policy and infrastructure, conservationists must
also promote pro-environmental behaviors surrounding
the consumption and disposal of plastics (Steg &
Vlek, 2009).
The topic of marine plastics gained public attention
in the United Kingdom in the last decade, with the airing
of Blue Planet II, a nature documentary series on marine
life produced by the BBC, being reportedly one turning
point (Hunt, 2017). Unlike the series' predecessor, The
Blue Planet, the high level of conservation messaging
within Blue Planet II has been credited with raising
awareness of plastic pollution to a nationwide audience
(Jones et al., 2019), with total viewing figures reaching
14.01 million across the United Kingdom (BARB, 2017).
In line with the mission of the BBC, as a public service
broadcaster, to inform, educate and entertainviewers
(BBC, n.d.), Blue Planet II producers aimed for the show
to provide a platform that got the broader message
(about plastic pollution) out(Honeyborne, 2018). An
analysis of Twitter activity relating to plastic waste found
that conversations around this topic in the first quarter of
Received: 23 June 2020 Revised: 25 August 2020 Accepted: 26 August 2020
DOI: 10.1111/csp2.280
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided
the original work is properly cited.
© 2020 The Authors. Conservation Science and Practice published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Society for Conservation Biology
Conservation Science and Practice. 2020;e280. 1of10
2018 had more than doubled compared to the same
period in the previous year (Joyce, 2018). The airing of
Blue Planet II was not only linked with a boost in public
interest, but also allegedly with changes in plastic con-
sumption behaviors (Collins, 2018), a phenomenon
dubbed the Blue Planet Effect(Hunt, 2017). Although
it is difficult to determine if the series had intended to
influence plastic consumption behaviors, Blue Planet II's
specific focus on human's environmental impacts and
direct messaging highlighting a responsibility to care for
our blue planet(Blue Planet II, Episode 7), suggests that
the series hoped to create a call to action amongst
However, the current evidence relating to the influ-
ence of Blue Planet II on viewer's plastic consumption is
largely anecdotal or based on self-reported behavior
(Collins, 2018), which is often an unreliable measure of
outcomes, with low correlations to observed behaviors
(Kormos & Gifford, 2014). As marine plastics become a
highly salient issue, individuals may also over-report pro-
environmental behaviors to comply with subjective social
norms (Pahl & Wyles, 2017). It is therefore important
that assessments of Blue Planet II use a meaningful mea-
sure of behavior and a robust experimental design to pro-
mote evidence-based evaluation and understand the true
impact of this series (Thomas-Walters, McNulty, &
Veríssimo, 2019; Veríssimo, 2013).
1.1 |Behavior change
In recent years, there has been an increasing focus across
conservation organizations of using media-based inter-
vention to encourage pro-environmental behaviors, in
response to the growing disconnect toward environmen-
tal problems in urban population with limited access to
nature (Thomas-Walters et al., 2019). Documentary film
has historically been used as a tool for promoting social
change (Karlin & Johnson, 2011), and wildlife documen-
taries have been highlighted as a potential avenue for cre-
ating pro-environmental change, as they are able to
articulate often complex ideas about environmental
issues to a wide-reaching audience (Janpol & Dilts, 2016).
Past studies have found nature documentaries to be able
to promote positive change through influencing viewers'
concern for the environment (Nolan, 2010), as well as
increasing support for conservation (Lin, 2013). However,
the ability of these programs to encourage specific behav-
ioral actions has not been as well documented.
Human behavior is highly complex and influenced by
an array of internal and external factors (Tonglet, Phil-
lips, & Read, 2004). Several theoretical frameworks for
identifying the influencers and barriers to pro-
environmental behaviors have been developed (Davis,
Campbell, Hildon, Hobbs, & Michie, 2015), one of the
most widely used being the theory of planned behavior
(TPB) (Ajzen, 1991). The TPB identifies the main con-
structs guiding behavioral intention to be: knowledge of
the behavior and its outcomes; attitudes towards the
behavior; subjective social norms around preforming this
behavior; and the perceived ability to exert control over
one's behaviors and the subsequent outcomes, or per-
ceived behavioral control. We used the TPB to guide this
research as this model has been previously found to be
an appropriate predictor of pro-environmental choice
behaviors such as plastic bag use (Sun et al., 2017) and
recycling (Tonglet et al., 2004). However, previous
research utilizing the TPB have often relied on inferred
changes either using these constructs as behavior change
proxies or relying on self-reported behaviors
(Ajzen, 2011). There is therefore a need for studies to
focus on measures of actual behavior change outcomes
when utilizing the TPB.
In this paper, we aimed to evaluate the popular media
hypothesis that the high levels of conservation messaging
in Blue Planet II had significantly impacted the plastic
consumption behaviors of viewers. We used a random-
ized control trial experimental design and actual
observed behaviors to answer two main research ques-
tions: (i) what is the effect of the conservation messaging
in Blue Planet II on the TPB constructs (i.e., knowledge,
attitudes, subjective social norms and perceived behav-
ioral control) when compared to a documentary on a
similar topic that holds no conservation messaging and
(ii) does the increased conservation messaging present in
Blue Planet II influenced viewers' actual choice of single
use plastics by increasing the likelihood of choosing a
pro-environmental alternative when compared to a docu-
mentary on a similar topic that holds no conservation
messaging. We used an active control group for this
research design in order to provide a relative-effect
We used randomized controlled trials to test the relative
influence of the conservation messaging within Blue
Planet II on plastic choice behaviors compared to a con-
trol group. We designed an experiment with two condi-
tions: the treatment condition (Blue Planet II, Episode
7, a nature documentary with high levels of conservation
messaging) and a control condition (The Blue Planet, Epi-
sode 1, a marine focused documentary with no conserva-
tion messaging) to which participants were assigned
randomly, unaware of which group they were in.
2of10 DUNN ET AL.
To select the specific episodes used for the control
and treatment interventions, we used the program NVivo
(12) to code the content of the scripts of each episode
across Blue Planet II and The Blue Planet. We identified
the recurring themes across the two documentary series
to be: animal behavior, natural histories, anthropogenic
impacts and conservation messaging (Table S3). We used
this framework to code the transcripts from each episode
of The Blue Planet and Blue Planet II and calculated the
total percentage cover of these themes across each epi-
sode. From this analysis, episode seven of Blue Planet II
was found to hold the highest cover of messaging on con-
servation and anthropogenic impacts, including specific
messaging about ocean plastics, and was therefore
selected as the treatment intervention. We designated
episode one of The Blue Planet as the control intervention
because it covered similar marine biology themes to the
treatment episode but held no conservation messaging or
information on anthropogenic impacts on the marine
Trials were conducted in and around London and
Oxford, United Kingdom, between June 2018 and July
2019 (Table S1). Participants were recruited through post-
ers distributed around the local area and online. Those
invited were offered to attend a screening of a nature doc-
umentary with the possibility to win a raffle prize worth
£50. We conducted a priori power analysis in RStudio
(version 1.2.5019) using the package pwr
(Champely, 2018). We used the following parameters to
determine our recommended sample size for testing the
difference between two groups: alpha = 0.05, power = 0.8
and between group effect size = 0.25 (Cohen, 1977).
Results determined that a minimum sample of 99 partici-
pants per group would be needed to detect this change.
Our final sample size was 150 participants, which pro-
vides a statistical power of 0.7.
Participants completed a questionnaire before and
after each intervention (Figure 1). We designed this ques-
tionnaire to elicit information on the behavioral con-
structs identified within the TPB model, including:
knowledge of environmental issues and behaviors; atti-
tudes towards pro-environmental actions; subjective
social norms around performing pro-environmental
behaviors; and perceived control of wider environmental
issues (Appendixes 1 and 2). The questions were struc-
tured as statements with a Likert scale response. We
included both a mix of questions relating to the specific
environmental issues in Blue Planet II, such as ocean
plastic pollution and coral bleaching, as well as more
general questions covering pro-environmental behaviors.
We included demographic questions to elicit information
on the participant's demographic background, including
their formal education level, age and gender. This infor-
mation was used to verify that the samples were compa-
rable across the control and treatment groups, and to
identify any possible confounding characteristics. In the
final section of the questionnaire, we asked the partici-
pants to identify their previous exposure to either The
FIGURE 1 Flowchart of our randomized control trial experimental design including pre-experimental and post-experimental
measures. The final nof the control and treatment groups did not add up to 150 sample due to incomplete surveys from four participants
DUNN ET AL.3of10
Blue Planet or Blue Planet II. We piloted our question-
naire on a sample of 13 postgraduate students studying
environmental sciences from Imperial College London in
order to test the general layout and clarity of the ques-
tions within the survey instrument.
The behavioral outcome was measured using revealed
preferences towards plastic or paper packaging (with
paper used as the pro-environmental alternative). We
asked participants to swap an allocated voucher for a
snack before and after the intervention screening
(Figure 1), with each snack option presented in both plas-
tic and paper packaging (Figure S1). The plastic packag-
ing used for these snack and drink options was similar to
that highlighted in the images of marine plastic pollution
shown in Blue Planet II, Episode 7. In order to reduce any
confounding variables in this choice, the flavors and sizes
of the drink and snack choices were controlled to be con-
sistent across the different packaging options (Appendix
3). We observed these choices, categorizing them into
either plastic or paper and matched this back to the par-
ticipants questionnaire through a corresponding number
found on their voucher. This observation was carried out
covertly in order to minimize social desirability bias. This
experimental design was approved by Imperial College
London research and ethics committee (IREC, case num-
ber: 2018-01383666-DUNN-M).
Four weeks following each experimental trial, we sent
participants a follow-up email regarding the £50 raffle
prize. The email required participants to select what
snacks they would like to spend their prize voucher on
from a mixture of options presented in both plastic and
paper packaging (Appendix 4). Responses were coded
into either a choice of paper or plastic and matched back
to the individual participant to determine the retention of
behaviors across both the control and treatment groups.
2.1 |Analysis
We calculated participant scores for knowledge, attitudes,
subjective social norms and perceived behavioral control
by summing the Likert scale scores across the questions
related to each construct. Questions that were negatively
worded were reverse scored and included in this calcula-
tion. We then coded participants' revealed preference
behaviors before and after the intervention as either 0 for
a choice of plastic or 1 for a choice of paper. We con-
ducted all statistical analysis using RStudio (version
1.2.5019), and the packages epiR (Stevenson et al., 2020)
and lme4 (Bates et al., 2015).
In order to examine the research questions: (i) what is
the effect of the conservation messaging in Blue Planet II
on the TPB constructs and; (ii) does the increased
conservation messaging in Blue Planet II influenced
viewers' choice of plastic, we first used odds ratio testing.
This effect size measure was used to examine the influ-
ence of the control and treatment interventions on both
the likelihood of change in questionnaire scores and pref-
erence choice behavior. Although this analysis is useful
for identifying the size and direction of the observed
effect, it does not take into account the influence of
covariates on the observed outcome. Therefore, a linear
mixed effects (LME) model and generalized linear mixed
model (GLMM) were also employed to measure the influ-
ence of the interaction between the intervention group
and pre-measure and post-measure on participant ques-
tionnaire scores for each TPB construct and participant
behavior, respectively. For both models, participant ID
and education level were also included as random effects.
Of the 150 participants that took part in this study,
146 individuals completed the full experiment and were
therefore included in the final sample, with 68 partici-
pants placed in the control group and 78 in the treatment
group. Most participants were aged between 18 and
25 (44%) and the sample was skewed towards females
(67%) (Table S2). When comparing the two groups using
Standard Mean Differences, education level was found to
have a medium mean difference (SMD = 0.50.3)
between the control and treatment groups, with more
participants with university qualifications in the treat-
ment group than the control (Table S2). This factor was
therefore included alongside participant ID as a random
effect within our mixed models.
Within the treatment group, scores for each TPB con-
structs (knowledge, attitude, subjective social norms, and
perceived behavioral control) increased from pre-inter-
vention to post-intervention. However, within the control
group, participants' knowledge and perceived behavioral
control scores were not found to change post the inter-
vention (Figure S1). Our analysis found participant's
knowledge to be significantly positively influenced by the
interaction between the intervention group and prepost-
stage of the questionnaire (LME model, F= 7.1, 95% Cis
[1.7, 11.1], p< .01). Participants in the treatment group
were 3.9 times more likely to increase their knowledge
scores post the intervention than participants in the con-
trol group (odds ratio testing, odds ratio = 3.9, 95% CI
[1.81, 8.51]) (Figure 2).
Despite results from odds ratio testing indicating a
higher likelihood of participants perceived behavioral
control and attitudes scores increasing post the treatment
intervention than the control (Figure 2), the LME model
4of10 DUNN ET AL.
did not find any of these constructs to be a significantly
positively influenced by the interaction between the
intervention group and prepost-stage of the question-
naire (F= 17.2, 95% CI [4.7, 13.2], p< .1; F= 3.1, 95% CI
[8.7, 0.4], p< .1, respectively).
A total of 117 participants completed both the before
and after revealed preference choice tests (54 participants
from the control and 63 participants from the treatment
group). Across both the treatment and control groups,
before the intervention 63% of participants chose plastic
packaging (Figure 3). Of the participants that displayed a
behavior change from pre to post the intervention, 40% of
participants within the treatment group went from
choosing plastic to paper packaging compared to 28%
within the control group (Figure 3).
However, the log odd estimate of participants choos-
ing paper over plastic was not found to be significantly
influenced by the interaction between the intervention
group and the prepost-stage of the intervention within
our GLMM (log odds estimate = 0.6, 95% CI [1.8, 0.4],
p= .2) (Table S4).
A final sample of 72 individuals participated in the
four-week follow-up choice experiment, a response rate
of 53%. Thirteen participants were removed from the
final count due to incomplete pre-intervention and post-
intervention choices creating a final sample of 59 (31 in
the treatment group and 28 in the control). Due to this
small sample size, we were only able to use descriptive
statistics on this dataset. Of these participants, 46% were
found to have retained their post-intervention revealed
FIGURE 2 Odds ratios of participants' questionnaire scores increasing post exposure to the treatment intervention for each TPB
construct assessed. The dashed line indicated an odds ratio of 1.0. The odds ratios were calculated using odds ratio testing. TPB, theory of
planned behavior
DUNN ET AL.5of10
preference, and 54% were found to have changed theirs.
We found that a higher proportion of participants in the
treatment group changed back to choosing plastic over
paper packaging after four weeks (45%) compared with
the control group (32%).
In addition to the adoption of government and industry
level regulations, efforts to combat plastic pollution also
rely on the collective actions of individuals reducing their
consumption of single-use plastics (Jambeck et al., 2015).
Therefore, in order for interventions to be successful,
they must be wide-reaching but also effective in targeting
demand reduction behaviors (Pahl & Wyles, 2017). As
such, an important aspect of evaluating mass media
interventions, and documentaries in particular, is to
ensure that reach is distinguished from impact (Jones
et al., 2019; Veríssimo et al., 2018). In the case of Blue
Planet II, the series reached millions of viewers, but this
offers no insight or guarantee into behavior changes tak-
ing place.
4.1 |Behavior change
Our results could not establish the behavioral influence
of the conservation messaging in Blue Planet II on an
observed change in revealed preference towards plastics
among the viewers studied when compared with our con-
trol intervention. This finding is counter to common
assertions that the series' messaging created a Blue
Planet Effectin reducing plastic consumption behaviors
FIGURE 3 The proportion of participants (%) within the control and treatment groups that chose plastic pre and post the intervention,
including 95% confidence intervals
6of10 DUNN ET AL.
(Hunt, 2017), but is the first to use a robust experimental
design as well as measure of observed behavior to test this
hypothesis. Currently, there are few robust evaluations of
nature documentaries (Thomas-Walters et al., 2019), but
the best available evidence broadly supports our main
findings. For example, Nolan (2010) found that despite the
documentary An Inconvenient Truth increasing viewer's
concerns about global climate change, this did not lead to
a sustained adoption of behaviors to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions. Similarly, the nature documentary series
Planet Earth 2 was found to increase species awareness
and stimulate engagement among audiences, however this
was not found to lead to proactive actions such as dona-
tion behaviors (Fernández-Bellon & Kane, 2019). Both
studies also highlight that awareness means very little in
the context of behavior change.
Furthermore, mass media interventions such as Blue
Planet II are vulnerable to rapid adoption and abandon-
ment (Mascia & Mills, 2018), and it is therefore important
to consider the future sustainment of any immediate
impacts on behaviors. The findings from our follow-up
choice experiment were consistent with those of previous
studies which have reported high relapses in any imme-
diate positive effects of an intervention (Howell, 2012).
However, our low sample size cannot offer a statistically
powerful conclusion to these findings. Additionally, as a
consequence of using photographs of snack choices
found at a cinema in order to fit the context of this
follow-up choice, the saliency of the plastic and paper
packaging options across these choices may have been
diminished. Thereby any signals indicating a sustained
influence of Blue Planet II on plastic preference behaviors
may have been truncated by this factor alone.
The benefits of the highly controlled setting used in
RCT, which limits the influence of confounding variable,
can also double as a limitation of this methodology in
reducing its real world replicability (Jadad &
Murray, 2007). In this study, we controlled for factors
such as how many episodes of Blue Planet II participants
watched and who they watched this with, which may be
counter to how viewers would have typically experienced
the series. It is therefore important to recognize these
limitations as well as the context of this experiment when
further applying the results of this research.
4.2 |Knowledge and attitudes
Despite the lack of evidence to support Blue Planet II as a
behavior change intervention, our analysis did reveal that
exposure to the show had a significant influence on increas-
ing viewers' knowledge of environmental issues. Although
our results demonstrate the value of increased conservation
messaging in media creating a far-reaching environmental
education opportunity (Barbas, Paraskevopoulos, &
Stamou, 2009), it also postulates that understanding alone
cannot drive action (Kollmuss & Agyeman, 2002). This con-
clusion is supported by previous research (Abrahamse
et al., 2005; Howell, 2012; Janpol & Dilts, 2016), which
argues that interventions solely focused on information defi-
cit are over-simplistic (Kollmuss & Agyeman, 2002), and is
in-line with the TPB model which hypothesizes that multi-
ple influences beyond understanding are necessary for a
behavior to be implemented (Ajzen, 1991).
Our results did not support previous studies that
found environmental documentaries to have an overall
positive influence on individual attitudes towards the
environment (Janpol & Dilts, 2016). Perhaps this is
because study participants had pre-existing high levels of
environmental attitude, with average pre-intervention
scores of 83% across both groups. These high baselines
could have resulted from self-reported bias of partici-
pant's scoring their own attitudes (Pahl & Wyles, 2017),
or a self-selection bias of the sample whereby those with
already positive attitudes about the environment were
interested in taking part in the study (Howell, 2011). As a
result of these pre-existing positive environmental atti-
tudes across both experimental groups, any difference
that was observed in the treatment group as a result of
the intervention could have been underestimated. It is
therefore not possible to assume our findings would be
true of an audience more similar to the wider UK popula-
tion, limiting the study's external validity.
Although the TPB has previously been found to be a
good framework for predicting pro-environmental behav-
ior change (Sun et al., 2017), additional factors could exist
outside of this model that also influence individuals' pref-
erence towards choosing plastic over paper. For example,
Triandis' theory of interpersonal behavior incorporates
the function of a habitual response in addition to social
and affective factors in influencing a given behavior
(Triandis, 1980), arguing that habits are mediators of
behaviors. Although this model has not been as widely
used as the TPB model, where it has been applied, studies
have found the addition of habits to have an increased
explanatory value, for example in the study of food waste
behaviors (Russell et al., 2017) and car use (Bamberg &
Schmidt, 2003).
4.3 |Wider impacts
Although individual change is an important measure of
intervention impact, research into the evaluation of films
and documentaries have called on expanding beyond this
to measure wider societal influences (Karlin &
DUNN ET AL.7of10
Johnson, 2011). In the case of Blue Planet II there is evi-
dence that the series resulted in much media attention
and increased conversation around the issue of marine
plastics, which may have led to upstream changes in all-
owing the topic of marine plastics to become more salient
and therefore creating a window of opportunity for policy
change. For example, the series was referenced in a
speech launching the UK governments' 25 year environ-
mental plan by former Prime Minister Theresa May, in
which she praised the show for vividly highlightingthe
problem of ocean plastics (May, 2018). Within this envi-
ronmental plan, the UK government committed to taking
increased legislative action to tackle plastic pollution.
This included the extension of a charge on using plastic
carrier bags, which has been credited with a decrease in
their use by 83% (HM Government, 2018) as well as the
setting of an ambitious target to eliminate avoidable plas-
tic waste by 2041 (HM Government, 2018). Additionally,
past research has also recognized interpersonal commu-
nications to be important motivators in the adoption of
new behaviors (Green et al., 2019). Therefore, subsequent
conversations about plastic consumption and pollution
triggered by Blue Planet II could still have influenced a
change in behavior, but this context was not something
that we accounted for within the experiment.
Previous research has found that an integration of dif-
ferent intervention strategies may be the most effective
way to sustain behavior change in an environmental con-
text (Salazar, Mills, & Veríssimo, 2019). Therefore, fur-
ther studies into the impact of documentaries and other
mass media interventions should consider both measures
of individual behavior change as well as broader societal
changes, for example, at the interpersonal or government
policy level, which could provide a more holistic and
nuanced understanding of impact.
4.4 |Conclusion
Despite the pressing issues of marine plastics and its
link to individual's behavioral choices, there is cur-
rently a lack of empirical research on how interven-
tions can be used to effectively target plastic
consumption behaviors (Hartley, Thompson, &
Pahl, 2015). This study offers an important example of
how to utilize and apply impact evaluation methods
to better understand intervention impacts on pro-
environmental behavior change. As nature documen-
taries become an increasingly popular television
genre (Koblin, 2020), the resurgence of these pro-
grams has also seen a change in narrative for the
shows, shifting their focus towards more conservation
themes (Jones et al., 2019). This study is the first to
present an understanding of the impacts of this narrative
shift on viewers pro-environmental behaviors using a
robust experimental design. We call on researchers to fur-
ther develop and deliver impact evaluation research
focused on nature documentaries and other mass media
interventions concerning biodiversity.
We would like to thank the study participants for their
contribution to this research. This study was supported
by Imperial College London.
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
Matilda Dunn collected the data and lead the write up of
the article. Morena Mills and Diogo Veríssimo contrib-
uted to the writing and revisions of the article. All
authors contributed to the research design and analysis
of the research.
The research adhered to Imperial College London's
research and ethics committee with project case number:
The data that support the findings of this study are avail-
able from the corresponding author upon reasonable
Matilda Eve Dunn
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How to cite this article: Dunn ME, Mills M,
Veríssimo D. Evaluating the impact of the
documentary series Blue Planet II on viewers'
plastic consumption behaviors. Conservation
Science and Practice. 2020;e280.
10 of 10 DUNN ET AL.
... This has been popularly known as the "Blue Planet Effect" (Hunt, 2017). However, Dunn et al. (2020) question whether this change in behaviour is real, citing use of selfreporting behaviour data as unreliable and with limited correlation to observed changes in consumer patterns. Current evidence of the "Blue Planet Effect", using randomised control trials revealed limited evidence for changes in behaviour although positive influences on environmental knowledge were found (Dunn et al., 2020). ...
... However, Dunn et al. (2020) question whether this change in behaviour is real, citing use of selfreporting behaviour data as unreliable and with limited correlation to observed changes in consumer patterns. Current evidence of the "Blue Planet Effect", using randomised control trials revealed limited evidence for changes in behaviour although positive influences on environmental knowledge were found (Dunn et al., 2020). ...
The global issues of climate change and marine litter are interlinked and understanding these connections are key to managing their combined risks to marine biodiversity and ultimately society. For example, fossil fuel-based plastics cause direct emissions of greenhouse gases and therefore are an important contributing factor to climate change, while other impacts of plastics can manifest as alterations in key species and habitats in coastal and marine environments. Marine litter is acknowledged as a threat multiplier that acts with other stressors such as climate change to cause far greater damage than if they occurred in isolation. On the other hand, while climate change can lead to increased inputs of litter into the marine environment, the presence of marine litter can also undermine the climate resilience of marine ecosystems. It is no longer possible to ignore that climate change and marine litter are inextricably linked, although these interactions and the resulting effects vary widely across oceanic regions and depend on the particular characteristics of specific marine environments. Holistic climate resilience approaches, that integrate other local stressors as well as active interventions, offer a suitable framework to incorporate the consideration of marine litter where that is deemed to be a risk, and to steer, coordinate and prioritise research and monitoring, as well as management, policy, planning and action to effectively tackle the combined risks and impacts from climate change and marine litter.
... By contrast, the Low Immersion and Restricted Navigation condition probably did not engage participants enough in order to have a large effect on behavioral intentions. This latter condition is relatively close to film documentaries which were found to have no lasting effect on behavior change (see, for instance, Dunn et al. (2020)). Thus, our study confirms and expands those studies to virtual environments, which postulate that "understanding alone cannot drive action" (Kollmuss and Agyeman, 2002). ...
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We present a study investigating the question whether and how people’s intention to change their environmental behavior depends on the degrees of immersion and freedom of navigation when they experience a deteriorating virtual coral reef. We built the virtual reef on top of a biologically sound model of the ecology of coral reefs, which allowed us to simulate the realistic decay of reefs under adverse environmental factors. During their experience, participants witnessed those changes while they also explored the virtual environment. In a two-factorial experiment (N = 224), we investigated the effects of different degrees of immersion and different levels of navigation freedom on emotions, the feeling of presence, and participants’ intention to change their environmental behavior. The results of our analyses show that immersion and navigation have a significant effect on the participants’ emotions of sadness and the feeling of helplessness. In addition, we found a significant effect, mediated by the participants’ emotions, on the intention to change their behavior. The most striking result is, perhaps, that the highest level of immersion combined with the highest level of navigation did not lead to the highest intentions to change behavior. Overall, our results show that it is possible to raise awareness of environmental threats using virtual reality; it also seems possible to change people’s behavior regarding these threats. However, it seems that the VR experience must be carefully designed to achieve these effects: a simple combination of all affordances offered by VR technology might potentially decrease the desired effects.
... One food retailer reported it received an 800% increase in questions about plastic after the series (Collins, 2018). Without dedicated research to measure the impact of the television series, it can be difficult to attribute actions directly to it (Dunn et al., 2020), but it is likely that information on the problem and the options for practical action were more effective than bleak warnings alone. ...
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... These findings suggest that at least one type of social media, YouTube, may be utilized to quickly, cheaply and effectively enhance tolerance for sharks. Although rapid change in attitudes toward wildlife conservation can and does occur (Niemiec et al., 2022), a single exposure to content such as this may not create long-term changes in behavior (Dunn, Mills & Ver ıssimo, 2020). However, repeated exposures to communications may establish long-term knowledge about a subject (Chaffee & Kanihan, 1997;Bode, 2016). ...
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Sharks are often depicted in the media as violent killers that actively seek out opportunities to harm humans. This framing may impact human tolerance and support of shark conservation, underscoring the need to identify strategies that counteract these negative representations. Social media, given its widespread use, could be an effective platform for shaping public tolerance for sharks and other wildlife species. In this experimental study, we conducted an online pre‐post survey in Spring 2020 to determine how viewing shark‐related YouTube videos impacted tolerance for sharks among residents (n = 335) in the coastal state of North Carolina (NC), USA and neighboring states. The study employed framing theory, which suggests that the ways in which information is presented influence how it is processed and the actions that result from it. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two video treatments where sharks were framed positively or negatively. Each video treatment impacted tolerance for sharks in the direction of their framing: positive framing influenced positive changes in tolerance (70% more positive attitudes toward sharks, a 130% increase in acceptance of sharks and a 46% increase in intended shark conservation behaviors), and negative framing influenced negative changes (25% more negative attitudes toward sharks, a 18% decrease in acceptance of sharks and a 3% decrease in intended shark conservation behaviors). These findings suggest positive messages about sharks on social media promote tolerance of sharks and can be more impactful than negative messages. At least one form of social media, YouTube, appears to be a valuable tool for encouraging tolerance for sharks. Differences in change in attitudes, change in acceptance, and change in intended behaviors toward sharks between the positive shark video and negative shark video treatment groups. Change in each variable was calculated by subtracting the pre‐test score from the post‐test score for each variable. Significance levels: *P < 0.05, **P < 0.01, ***P < 0.001 for Welch’s t‐test comparing magnitude of change between the negative and positive treatments, adjusted with the Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals. The dashed line represents a baseline of no change.
... This was fielded two months after the Blue Planet II finale, a widely watched BBC TV documentary series on the planet's oceans presented by Sir David Attenborough that was accredited with boosting support for tackling environmental problems, especially the 'war on plastic'. It is thus perhaps surprising that the stated prioritization is not higher, though perhaps less so given that claims of the documentary's influence tended to be based on anecdotal evidence (Dunn et al. 2020). Yet a dramatic increase would take place over the coming 18 months when attention in public discourse greatly increased in light of Extinction Rebellion protests and climate-strikes, and the movement from a passive to a competitive consensus on the issue at the political party level (Carter and Little 2021). ...
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This article examines the evolution of long-term trends in the prioritization of environmental protection in Britain over a period of four decades. It does so by compiling comparable questions tapping into the same underlying environmental dimension from a range of sources, including historical polling data that has only recently been made available to the research community. At the aggregate level, prioritization largely tracks changing economic conditions as well as key environmental events, with the winter of 2019 showing the highest recorded levels. Furthermore, trends in individuals' willingness to prioritize the environment may not always go in tandem with trends in environmental salience. At the individual level, educational attainment is the only consistently significant demographic correlate over time. However, there is evidence of increasing politicization of the environment, with left–right orientations only becoming an important correlate of environmental prioritization in recent years, in line with rising divergence on the issue at the elite level.
... There are some great examples to hand of how the mass media has worked to mobilize concern for animals via interest in 'natural history'; the most striking case being that terrible shot in Attenborough's Blue Planet 2 of a plastic bag attached to a sea turtle. This catalyzed a massive change in attitudes to the political acceptability of single-use plastics (Calderwood 2018;Dunn et al. 2020). ...
... Als potentielle Erklärungen für diese Wirkung werden die Lenkung von Aufmerksamkeit auf das Thema (Hynes et al., 2021), der Wissenszuwachs (Dunn et al., 2020), Kultivierungseffekte (Holbert et al., 2003) oder eine gesteigerte Verbundenheit zur Natur angeführt (Arendt & Matthes, 2016). Bisher wurden Naturdokumentationen jedoch undifferenziert betrachtet und es wurden vor allem klassische Naturdokumentationen untersucht, die schöne Natur-und Tierbilder zeigen. ...
This volume offers a wide range of insights into current media reception and effects research on the topic of ‘sustainability’. The contributions it contains deal with how this topic is communicated and negotiated on (social) media, how various message and context features affect sustainable behaviour, and what role established and ‘new’ actors—such as influencers or one’s own social media contacts—play in sustainability communication. Based on a broad understanding of sustainability, the articles document the current state of research in this field, answer open questions on an empirical basis and provide ideas for future research.
... Many documentaries have successfully raised awareness and concern for environmental issues, some cite the "Attenborough effect" where single use plastic declined in the UK in response to the call to reduce marine plastic in the documentary Blue Planet (Hilderbrand, 2020). However, documentaries have not necessarily resulted in wide-spread social change in the behavior of individuals or a policy change (Nolan, 2010;Dunn et al., 2020). In addition, those watching such documentaries will usually have an underlying interest in nature or the environment, so detecting a behavior change can be confounded by this bias. ...
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The connectivity concept within soil security posits that people need to have a connection to soil in order to properly value it. Showing how soil is important in everyday life can create connections to soil, because people care about things they see as impacting their quality of life. Education can demonstrate these connections and may take place in either formal or informal settings and over a wide range of age groups. Creating an effective educational environment is critical, which involves understanding the specific group being addressed, including their existing knowledge of and interest in soil. Soil scientists increasingly teach to student groups that need to know about soils within their chosen careers but are not necessarily training to be soil specialists. Within this formal setting, education that demonstrates the various functions that soils provide in support of human wellbeing may be important to connectivity because it clearly demonstrates the impact of soils on peoples’ lives. In less formal settings, it will be important to identify concepts that will resonate with the public or stakeholders, such as terroir, soil health, or soil security, and to effectively reach these groups with a message built around these concepts. Social marketing, social media, storytelling, soil apps, and soil games are all approaches that have promise to deliver the desired message, therefore creating connections between people and soil.
This chapter summarizes the human dimension in plastic pollution, with a particular focus on human behavior and its determinants. It reviews antecedents of behavior such as risk perception, motivation and social norms. The chapter presents the early results of a scoping review of recent behavior change interventions. Why individuals behave the way they do in the environmental context is a key question of interest in environmental psychology. Having summarized the main determinants of human behavior, the chapter presents the early results of a scoping review of recent academic literature on behavior change interventions designed to reduce plastic consumption and waste in four specific sectors: business and retail, tourism and leisure, schools and education, and community. A number of behavioral studies on plastic pollution in the Global South have emerged in recent years. Simmons and Fielding conducted a study on the psychological predictors of sustainable waste management practices in Indonesian coastal communities.
Single-use packaging items constitute a large proportion of the plastic litter found in the marine environment. Consumer decisions contribute to the accumulation of this pollution in the environment. Here we undertook two studies to assess consumer responses to different types of single-use packaging. Moreover, we introduce a new measure of ocean connectedness adapted from nature connectedness measures and investigate its association with consumer response. In Study 1, 60 UK undergraduate students completed a packaging rating task and a survey on ocean connectedness in a laboratory environment. In the rating task pictures of bottled drinks with unique combinations of packaging recyclability (recyclable or non-recyclable) and type of material (plastic, glass, aluminium or carton) were rated in terms of willingness to buy, anticipated affective response and attractiveness. Study 2 used the same experimental approach online, with responses gathered from a broader UK public sample (n = 512). The data were analysed using linear mixed models. Both studies demonstrated a strong preference for recyclable over non-recyclable packaging and found interaction effects between recyclability and ocean connectedness: We found larger differences between ratings for recyclable and non-recyclable packaging in consumers high in ocean connectedness than in respondents low in ocean connectedness. Interactions between packaging material and consumer ratings showed that plastic packaging in general was viewed as less benign by those high in ocean connectedness. Ocean connectedness has the potential to encourage sustainable purchasing and help minimise plastic waste. Study limitations and wider implications are discussed.
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With the recognition that most global environmental problems are a result of human actions, there is an increasing interest in approaches which have the potential to influence human behaviour. Images have a powerful role in shaping persuasive messages, yet research on the impacts of visual representations of nature is a neglected area in biodiversity conservation. We systematically screened existing studies on the use of animal imagery in conservation, identifying 37 articles. Although there is clear evidence that images of animals can have positive effects on people’s attitudes to animals, overall there is currently a dearth of accessible and comparable published data demonstrating the efficacy of animal imagery. Most existing studies are place and context-specific, limiting the generalisable conclusions that can be drawn. Transdisciplinary research is needed to develop a robust understanding of the contextual and cultural factors that affect how animal images can be used effectively for conservation purposes.
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In urbanized societies that are increasingly disconnected from nature, communicating ecological and species awareness is crucial to revert the global environmental crisis. However, our understanding of the effectiveness of this process is limited. We present a framework for describing how such awareness may be transferred and test it on the popular BBC show Planet Earth 2 by analyzing Twitter and Wikipedia big data activity. Despite lacking explicit conservation themes, this show generated species awareness, stimulating audience engagement for information at magnitudes comparable to those achieved by other conservation‐focused campaigns. Results suggest that natural history films can provide vicarious connections to nature and can generate durable shifts in audience awareness beyond the broadcast of the show—key factors for changing environmental attitudes. More broadly, this study underscores how open‐source big data analysis can inform effective dissemination of ecological awareness and provides a framework for future research for investigating behavioral change.
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1. Netflix recently launched its high-profile nature documentary Our Planet. Voiced by Sir David Attenborough in English (with Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz and other Hollywood actors voicing versions simultaneously released in 10 other languages), Netflix are making a clear play for core BBC territory. However, they claim that this is a nature documentary with a difference as it puts the threats facing nature front and center to the narrative. 2. We coded the scripts of Our Planet, and those of three recent Attenborough-voiced BBC documentaries, to explore the extent to which threats (and conservation action and success) are discussed. The only other series which comes close to the frequency with which these issues are discussed is Blue Planet II, but Our Planet is unique in weaving discussion of these issues throughout all episodes rather than keeping them to a dedicated final episode. However, although Our Planet sounds different to other documentaries, the visuals are very similar. Nature is still mostly shown as pristine, and the presence or impacts of people on the natural world very seldom appear. We discuss the potential consequences of nature documentaries erasing humans from the land/seascape. 3. We also discuss the mechanisms by which nature documentaries may have a positive impact on conservation. Despite links between information provision and behaviour change being complex and uncertain, nature documentaries may, at least in theory, elicit change in a number of ways. They may increase willingness amongst viewers to make personal lifestyle changes, increase support for conservation organizations, and generate positive public attitudes and subsequently social norms towards an issue, making policy change more likely. 4. Netflix is certainly bringing biodiversity and the threats it faces into the mainstream , but the mechanisms by which viewing these representations translates to concrete behaviour change are poorly understood. Increasing interest in robust impact evaluation, integrating qualitative and quantitative methods, means the
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Despite billions of dollars invested, “getting to scale” remains a fundamental challenge for conservation donors and practitioners. Occasionally, however, a conservation intervention will “go viral,” with rapid, widespread adoption that transforms the relationship between people and nature across large areas. The factors that shape rates and patterns of conservation interventions remain unclear, puzzling scientists and hindering evidence-based policymaking. Diffusion of innovation theory – the study of the how and why innovations are adopted, and the rates and patterns of adoption – provides a novel lens for examining rates and patterns in the establishment of conservation interventions. Case studies from Tanzania and the Pacific illustrate that characteristics of the innovation, of the adopters, and of the social-ecological context shape spatial and temporal dynamics in the diffusion of community-centered conservation interventions. Differential trends in adoption mirrored the relative advantage of interventions to local villagers and villager access to external technical assistance. Theories of innovation diffusion highlight new arenas for conservation research and provide critical insights for conservation policy and practice, suggesting the potential to empower donors and practitioners with the ability to catalyze conservation at scale – and to do so at less cost and with longer-lasting impacts.
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Over 3 billion plastic bags are consumed in China every day, which brings great challenges to solid waste management. Although Chinese government has implemented the “plastic ban” in 2008, many people still use plastic bags in their daily lives. This paper examines the determinants of plastic bags usage behaviour among 392 consumers in China from the perspective of the extended theory of planned behaviour (TPB). The extension is implemented by adding three variables: convenience, environmental concern and ethical belief. The empirical results indicate that consumers’ attitude towards using plastic bags, subjective norm, perceived behaviour control and convenience are all statistically significantly and positively related to the intention to use plastic bags. Meanwhile, environmental concern and ethical belief have significant but negative effects on consumers’ attitude and intention to use plastic bags. The attitude towards using plastic bags partially mediates the effects of consumers’ environmental concern and ethical belief on their intention to use plastic bags. In addition, this study confirms the appropriateness of the TPB model and shows that the extended TPB model has good predictive power in understanding consumers’ intention to use plastic bags. Based on these results, implications for policy makers and suggestions for further future study are offered.
The rapidly increasing rate of biodiversity and habitat loss across the globe can be largely attributed to human behaviors. Conservation practitioners have struggled to influence behaviors through traditional awareness-raising efforts and been slow to adopt techniques from the behavioral sciences such as social marketing to change behaviors and improve conservation outcomes. We conducted a meta-analysis of 84 social marketing campaigns that applied the same theory of change for human behavior to disrupt patterns of destructive activities such as illegal hunting and overfishing. Questionnaires of more than 20,000 individuals across 18 countries measured changes in behavioral variables pre- and post-campaigns, including knowledge, attitudes, interpersonal communication, behavior intention, and behavior. For each campaign, we extracted data and validated data for behavioral variables, estimated mean effect sizes for each variable across all campaigns, and used path analysis to measure relationships among variables included in seven different models. On average, all behavioral variables increased significantly (p <.001) from 16.1 to 25.0 percentage points following social marketing campaigns. The full model used a combination of all variables and had the highest explained variation in behavior change (71%). Our results highlight the importance of (a) incorporating behavioral theory and social marketing into traditional conservation programs to address threats to biodiversity across the globe; (b) designing interventions that leverage a combination of community knowledge, attitudes, and communication about a behavior; and (c) facilitating more opportunities for interpersonal communication as a main driver of behavior change. We conclude with potential applications for practitioners interested in behavior change campaigns.
Social marketing campaigns use marketing techniques to influence human behavior for the greater social good. In the conservation sector, social marketing campaigns have been used to influence behavior for the benefit of biodiversity as well as society. However, there are few evaluations of their effectiveness. We devised an approach for evaluating the influences of social marketing campaigns on human behavior and conservation outcomes. We used general elimination methodology, a theory-driven qualitative evaluation method, to assess the long-term impacts of a 1998 Rare Pride campaign on the island of Bonaire that was designed to increase the population of the Lora (Amazona barbadensis), a threatened parrot. We interviewed stakeholder groups to determine their perceptions of the drivers of the changes in the Lora population over time. We used these data to develop an overall theory of change to explain changes in the Lora population by looking at the overlap in hypotheses within and between stakeholder groups. We then triangulated that theory of change with evidence from government reports, peer-reviewed literature, and newspapers. The increase in the Lora population was largely attributed to a decrease in illegal poaching of Loras and an associated decrease in local demand for pet Loras. Decreases in poaching and demand were likely driven by a combination of law enforcement, social marketing (including the Rare campaign), and environmental education in schools. General elimination methodology helped show how multiple interventions influenced a conservation outcome over time. There is a need for evidence-based evaluations of social marketing interventions to ensure that limited resources are spent wisely. © 2018 Society for Conservation Biology.
Marine litter is a global challenge and society plays an important role via lifestyles and behaviour, including policy support. We analysed public perceptions of marine litter and contributing factors, using data from 1133 respondents across 16 European countries. People reported high levels of concern about marine litter, and the vast majority (95%) reported seeing litter when visiting the coast. The problem was attributed to product and packaging design and behaviour rather than lack of facilities or accidental loss of items. Retailers, industry and government were perceived as most responsible, but also least motivated and competent to reduce marine litter, whereas scientists and environmental groups were perceived as least responsible but most motivated and competent. Regression analyses demonstrated the importance of psychological factors such as values and social norms above sociodemographic variables. These findings are important for communications and interventions to reduce inputs of marine litter to the natural environment.
Plastic pollution is caused exclusively by humans. It poses growing global threats to both the ocean and society, and requires urgent action. Using psychological principles can motivate and implement change by connecting symptoms and sources.