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People in the Zoo: A Social Context for Conservation

People in the Zoo: A Social Context for Conservation

(p.204) Chapter Sixteen People in the Zoo: A Social Context for Conservation
The Ark and Beyond
Susan ClaytonKhoa D. Le Nguyen
University of Chicago Press

Zoos may be able to promote conservation by communicating the need for conservation to their visitors, and particularly by creating concern about the animals. Conversations among zoo visitors have the potential to highlight the value of nature and to promote affection and empathy for animals, along with a sense of connection. Psychological research suggests that concern for others, including animals, is higher when they are perceived as more similar to the perceiver. Zoos can, and do, utilize their exhibits to promote a sense of similarity and connection to animals among visitors. We present a study in which observers of a capuchin monkey exhibit were asked to consider either similarities or differences between the monkeys and humans. Those looking for similarities attended to different attributes of the monkeys, focusing on faces and on behavior, whereas those focused on difference emphasized physical characteristics. Compared to a control condition, both groups showed greater environmental concern; providing information about human implication in environmental threats, however, increased concern among the control group. We conclude that carefully designed zoo exhibits and signage may increase care and concern for animal conservation, but that determining the best combination of information to present is a complex task.

Keywords:   zoos, similarity to animals, exhibit signage, conservation, environmental concern, connection, empathy

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