Date of Award

Spring 5-11-2018

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Economics

Advisor

Caroline L. Noblet

Second Committee Member

Keith S. Evans

Third Committee Member

Laura N. Rickard

Abstract

Environmental decision making may be influenced by information and how this information has been disseminated. By recognizing that information needs to be salient to the individual (Cash et al., 2003, 2006), tailored and framed to the individual (Pelletier & Sharp, 2008), and recognizing that the information must be presented in a way that the individual is ready and able to accept the information (Teisl, Rubin, & Noblet, 2008) all serve as a means to improve the effect information has on environmental decision making. Through this work, two studies of contextual examples of how information dissemination affects environmental decision making are presented.

The first study seeks to learn about how safety information disclosures affect the perception of risk. Coastal water quality may be threatened by natural and human process; it is important to understand how coastal water users perceive the risk to human health associated with these threats (Hlavsa et al., 2011; Lewis & Miller, 2016). I use data collected by the New England Sustainability Consortium’s Safe Beaches & Shellfish Project 2015 mail survey conducted in Maine and New Hampshire on coastal residents (Fox et al., 2017). I investigate how information through public disclosures at either beaches or shellfish harvesting areas influence risk perceptions associated with entering the water (or eating shellfish) under an advisory or closure. Further, we test to see if the frames of marine environment or public health may be more appropriate to communicate information to the public and how it influences risk perception. The findings suggest that disclosures of poor coastal water quality at these areas do not influence risk perception nor do specific messages appear to alter risk perceptions.

The second study seeks to better understand consumer information seeking behavior and use of product labels for aquaculture products and how these behaviors change when the heterogeneity in preferences is considered. Despite aquaculture’s stance as a rapidly growing sustainable food technology, public opinion about aquaculture is still relatively unformed (Murray et al., 2017). Labeling of aquaculture products is an opportunity to provide information that is salient and messages that bridge the gap between the individual and the information presented on labels at the time of purchase (Cash et al., 2003, 2006; Pelletier & Sharp, 2008; Teisl et al., 2008). We use data from a 2017 national survey collected by the Sustainable Ecological Aquaculture Network Human Dimensions Team to capture behaviors and perceptions of aquaculture. To approach our unique problem, audience segmentation methods are employed to introduce heterogeneity in our sample based on a suite of covariates that fundamentally separates individuals into groups by their attitudes and impressions of aquaculture and investigate how aquaculture label seeking behavior on products changes across groups of individuals. Findings suggest that, while public opinion remains unformed, three types of individuals exist: interested skeptics, blissfully ignorant, and information seekers. It is found that the different types of individuals all tend to seek information slightly differently, providing a frame for the aquaculture industry to tailor information so that it may be more salient to the individual at the time of purchase (Cash et al., 2006; Pelletier & Sharp, 2008).

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