The influence of social identity on attitudes toward wildlife

Max H. Birdsong, Alexander L. Metcalf, Elizabeth Covelli Metcalf, Holly Kathleen Nesbitt, Justin A. Gude

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wildlife conservation depends on supportive social as well as biophysical conditions. Social identities such as hunter and nonhunter are often associated with different attitudes toward wildlife. However, it is unknown whether dynamics within and among these identity groups explain how attitudes form and why they differ. To investigate how social identities help shape wildlife-related attitudes and the implications for wildlife policy and conservation, we built a structural equation model with survey data from Montana (USA) residents (n = 1758) that tested how social identities affect the relationship between experiences with grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) and attitudes toward the species. Model results (r2 = 0.51) demonstrated that the hunter identity magnified the negative effect of vicarious property damage on attitudes toward grizzly bears (β = −0.381, 95% confidence interval [CI]: −0.584 to −0.178, p < 0.001), which in turn strongly influenced acceptance (β = −0.571, 95% CI: −0.611 to −0.531, p < 0.001). Our findings suggested that hunters’ attitudes toward grizzly bears likely become more negative primarily because of in-group social interactions about negative experiences, and similar group dynamics may lead nonhunters to disregard the negative experiences that out-group members have with grizzly bears. Given the profound influence of social identity on human cognitions and behaviors in myriad contexts, the patterns we observed are likely important in a variety of wildlife conservation situations. To foster positive conservation outcomes and minimize polarization, management strategies should account for these identity-driven perceptions while prioritizing conflict prevention and promoting positive wildlife narratives within and among identity groups. This study illustrates the utility of social identity theory for explaining and influencing human–wildlife interactions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalConservation Biology
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • cacería
  • carnívoros mayores
  • conflicto humano-fauna
  • endogrupo
  • especies amenazadas y en peligro
  • exogrupo
  • Gran Ecosistema de Yellowstone (GEY)
  • Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE)
  • human–wildlife conflict
  • hunting
  • in-group out-group
  • large carnivores
  • perceived risk
  • riesgo percibido
  • threatened and endangered species
  • tolerance
  • tolerancia
  • 人类与野生动物冲突
  • 受威胁和濒危物种
  • 大型食肉动物
  • 大黄石生态系统
  • 容忍度
  • 感知风险
  • 狩猎
  • 群内群外


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