Written Appeals for Attention to Low-Impact Messages on Wilderness Trailside Bulletin Boards: Experimental Evaluations of Effectiveness


  • David N. Cole


Involvement, personal relevance, persuasive communication, source characteristics, visitor education, wilderness management


Visitor attention to low-impact messages posted on trailside bulletin boards was assessed in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, Montana. Various appeals for attention, written on 4 in.-wide banners, were placed on the bulletin board along with 6low-impact messages. The most simple appeal read, "Please take time to read these messages." Five more elaborate appeals contained an additional line of text. Three of these more elaborate appeals attempted to increase the personal relevance of messages. Two appeals attributed the messages to sources that might be perceived as credible, likeable or similar to visitors.

Overall, 61% of visitors stopped and looked at the messages. Those who stopped looked at the messages for an average of 52 seconds. Hikers were much more likely to stop than horse riders. Overnight users spent longer looking at the messages than day users.

Compared to the simple request for attention, none of the more elaborate appeals was more effective in gaining or holding the attention of most users. Two of the attempts to increase personal relevance increased the time overnight hikers attended to messages. When results are compared to those from an earlier experiment, it appears that the simple appeal for attention nearly doubled the time spent reading messages; however, the appeal had no effect on the number of visitors who gave the messages any attention at all.

This study suggests that if managers want visitors to read messages posted on bulletin boards, they should ask for visitors' attention. They should not assume visitors will read messages simply because they are posted. Elaborating on why visitors should attend to messages was not very useful. Although it is possible that other written appeals might be more effective, it is also possible that visitors who will not comply with a simple request for attention will not comply with requests for attention, regardless of the appeal.

The appeals' lack of success in increasing the proportion of visitors who gave the messages any attention suggests the need for other attentiongaining strategies. One potential strategy might be to intermix low-impact messages with other types of information visitors want, such as maps, natural history, or "news" from recent ranger patrols. The difficulty of inducing horse riders to stop and read messages on trailside bulletin boards (only 30% gave messages any attention at all) suggests the need for different communication techniques. Outreach through horse clubs, training courses, brochures and booklets, such as those developed within the Leave-No-Trace program, are potentially more effective means of communicating with horse users.

The compliance with appeals for attention found in this study is a reason to be optimistic about low-impact education programs. It suggests that many visitors endow management agencies with the right to prescribe certain behaviors for them .and want to comply with those prescriptions. Unfortunately, compliance with a request for attention to messages does not guarantee compliance with the behaviors recommended in those messages. However, attention is a prerequisite for behavioral change and simply asking for attention is a surprisingly effective means of increasing attention.





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