Emotionally augmented mental models, connectivity and beaver reintroduction in Southwest England

Blewett, Andrew; Jacobs, Maarten; Kok, Kasper; Jones, Natalie A.; Ogle, Sharron; Huijbens, Edward


Understanding the psychology of human-wildlife interactions has grown beyond cognitive frameworks to include appreciation of roles played by emotion in human responses to wildlife. From its beginnings as an essentially cognitively framed proposition, mental modeling has been shown readily applicable to representing and interpreting stakeholder perspectives on combined social and natural systems, but lacks an integrated approach to emotion. This is an important knowledge gap. To commence an investigation into the relationship focused on the requirements of wildlife conservation, we carried out a case study of perspectives toward a free-living Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) reintroduction in Southwest England, ecologically significant as a generator of highvalue wetland habitat while interacting strongly with local human interests. Using fuzzy cognitive mapping techniques, we report predictive relationships between model measurements and subjective emotional valence elicited in relation to stakeholder conceptual content. Significant interactions were identified between three measures of concept connective influence within mental models and associated emotional valence intensity: single model concept connective salience, aggregated model concept connective salience, and aggregated model predictive inferences made by dynamic analysis. A possible explanation for these findings is outlined in which we propose that criteria-based evaluations suggested by appraisal theory of emotion are sensitive to the strength and distribution of connective influences within mental models. Apart from its theoretical significance, the evidence presented in this paper highlights the importance of attending to conservation stakeholder emotional experiences, and may assist in new approaches to mitigation where conservation objectives require human adjustment.