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Evaluation of factors affecting emotional responses in zoo visitors and the impact of emotion on conservation mindedness

By D. M. Powell, E. V. W. Bullock

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Creating experiences for visitors that increase their biological knowledge and inspire conservation mindedness is a critical task for zoos and aquariums. A growing body of literature suggests that emotional stimulation is affected by characteristics of both the visitor and the visitor's experiences and is important for learning and inspiring pro-environmental sentiment. In this study we explored relationships between emotional experience, the factors that influence it, visitors' predispositions toward nature, and their reports of conservation mindedness after viewing three carnivore exhibits at the Bronx Zoo, USA. We surveyed visitors after they viewed tigers, African wild dogs, and spotted hyenas during baseline conditions or when the animals were given environmental enrichment to stimulate natural behavior and activity. We asked visitors to report their predispositions toward nature, the extent of positive emotional experiences they had while viewing the animals, and how the experience affected their conservation mindedness. Environmental enrichment significantly increased animal behavioral diversity, particularly for African wild dogs, and contributed to visitors reporting having had an up-close encounter with the animals, both of which affected the strength of positive emotional experiences at the exhibits. The extent of eye contact with the animal and the animal species also significantly affected emotional responses. Women reported stronger emotional experiences than men, however younger adults did not experience stronger positive emotional responses than older participants. Visitors' predispositions toward nature and emotional responses were significantly correlated. Strong predispositions toward nature and emotional experiences produced significantly stronger reports of conservation mindedness in visitors as a result of their experience at the exhibit. These findings have implications for animal husbandry, exhibit design, education, and outreach efforts for zoos.

Publication Title Anthrozoos
Volume 27
Issue 3
Pages 389-405
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
Publisher Bloomsbury
DOI 10.2752/175303714x13903827488042
Language English
Author Address Department of Mammalogy, Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx Zoo, 2300 Southern Blvd., Bronx, NY 10460,
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal husbandry
  2. Animals
  3. Animal welfare
  4. Anthrozoology
  5. APEC countries
  6. Biological resources
  7. Canidae
  8. Canine
  9. Carnivores
  10. Cats
  11. Characteristics
  12. Conservation
  13. Countries
  14. Developed countries
  15. Dogs
  16. Education
  17. Emotions
  18. Enrichment
  19. Evaluation
  20. Eyes
  21. Gardens
  22. Humans
  23. Mammals
  24. Men
  25. New York
  26. North America
  27. OECD countries
  28. Pets and companion animals
  29. Primates
  30. stimulation
  31. tigers
  32. United States of America
  33. vertebrates
  34. visitors
  35. welfare
  36. Women
  37. Zoo and captive wild animals