Effect of decision rules in choice experiments on hunting and bushmeat trade

Providing insight on decisions to hunt and trade bushmeat can facilitate improved management interventions that typically include enforcement, alternative employment, and donation of livestock. Conservation interventions to regulate bushmeat hunting and trade have hitherto been based on assumptions of utility- (i.e., personal benefits) maximizing behavior, which influences the types of incentives designed. However, if individuals instead strive to minimize regret, interventions may be misguided. We tested support for 3 hypotheses regarding decision rules through a choice experiment in Tanzania. We estimated models based on the assumptions of random utility maximization (RUM) and pure random regret maximization (P-RRM) and combinations thereof. One of these models had an attribute-specific decision rule and another had a class-specific decision rule. The RUM model outperformed the P-RRM model, but the attribute-specific model performed better. Allowing respondents with different decision rules and preference heterogeneity within each decision rule in a class-specific model performed best, revealing that 55% of the sample used a P-RRM decision rule. Individuals using a P-RRM decision rule responded less to enforcement, salary, and livestock donation than did individuals using the RUM decision rule. Hence, 3 common strategies, enforcement, alternative income-generating activities, and providing livestock as a substitute protein, are likely less effective in changing the behavior of more than half of respondents. Only salary elicited a large (i.e. elastic) response, and only for one RUM class. Policies to regulate the bushmeat trade based solely on the assumption of individuals maximizing utility, may fail for a significant proportion of the sample. Despite the superior performance of models that allow both RUM and P-RRM decision rules there are drawbacks that must be considered before use in the Global South, where very little is known about the social-psychology of decision making.