Effect of social media and pledge coins on pro-environmental behavior of Yellowstone National Park Youth Conservation Corps enrollees
Sedgeley, Nicole Marie
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In a world facing many serious environmental concerns, such as climate change, there needs to be a new generation of stewards willing to ensure our natural resources can be enjoyed for generations to come. These next stewards may come from programs like the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) in Yellowstone National Park. These individuals are from the ages of 15 - 18 and serve for one month inside the park. They work on projects that help conservation and education efforts in Yellowstone National Park while also learning and developing leadership and career skills. The two sessions of 2016 YCC enrollees (N = 60) were chosen to participate in this study focused on the impact of social media and social pressure on pro-environmental behavior. Studies have shown that this age demographic is more likely to be influenced by social media, thus this study was interested in how this influence impacted their behaviors and attitudes toward the environment and creating social change. Half of the enrollees (n = 27) were asked to create a video to post to social media in which they would pledge to help the environment. Then once the pledge was completed, they would post another video to social media challenging another individual to also perform a pro-environmental action and passing on to them a wooden pledge coin. The other half of enrollees were the comparison group and were not asked to post any social media components. Both sessions were given two sets of Likert-scale question and short-answer questionnaires six months apart to evaluate any changes in attitudes or behaviors toward the environment following their experience in the YCC. The results of this study showed that after six months of social media monitoring, no YCC enrollee posted a pledge video to social media, and only one enrollee reported passing on a pledge coin. The questionnaires confirmed these findings. Enrollees disagreed that social media was an influence, but rather they agreed that families and social networks were an influence on their behavior. They also agreed to having interest in and caring for the environment. Furthermore, the short-answer questions identified the already strong connection these teenagers had to the environment, with many stating that they often participate in many pro-environmental behaviors already, but that the YCC program increased their awareness and likelihood of doing more. Indeed, these YCC participants are the current and future stewards of our natural world, but this study found that using social media with pledge videos and pledge coins are not likely to be an effective means to encouraging others to do the same. Further research is needed to validate these findings due to the small sample sizes and complications with the questionnaire administration.