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The Symbolic Wolf: A Construal Level Theory Analysis of the Perceptions of Wolves in the United States

Slagle, Kristina M., Wilson, Robyn S., Bruskotter, Jeremy T., Toman, Eric
Society & natural resources 2019 v.32 no.3 pp. 322-337
Canis lupus, national surveys, property rights, ranchers, stakeholders, wildlife, wolves, United States
Charismatic wildlife can be difficult to manage due to the controversies they generate among stakeholders, which may be rooted in their symbolic meaning. Using construal-level theory, we coded the images of gray wolves mentioned by respondents to a national survey (n = 621) and an issue public survey (n = 447) as symbolic (abstract) or corporeal (concrete). We analyzed the relationship between these representations of wolves and several perceptions that may perpetuate social conflict. Most people thought of wolves abstractly, and abstract thoughts were associated with positive feelings toward wolves and agreement with existence beliefs regarding wolves. Concrete representations were associated with identifying as a gun or property rights advocate, hunter, or farmer/rancher. Given these disparate views of wolves, engaging stakeholders through collaborative processes designed to foster a shared understanding of this species, while addressing the concerns of those groups, could be useful in reducing conflict concerning wolf management.