Empathy for Invertebrates: Adults' Empathic Behaviors at Aquarium Touch Tanks
Knudson, Heather M
MetadataShow full item record
In recent years, developing empathy for animals has become a strategy to encourage zoo and aquarium visitors to change their behavior in order to save the environment. However, it is much easier to feel empathy for charismatic megafauna – cute, familiar animals, like mammals – than for non-charismatic animals such as invertebrates. The purpose of this study was to determine whether and how adult aquarium visitors empathize with non-charismatic species they encounter at aquarium touch tanks. Observations of 258 adults at three different aquariums across the United States were conducted. All participants displayed empathic behaviors as well as behaviors that are related to empathy. Non-parametric statistical tests revealed that the specific aquarium and specific animal involved in the interactions, as well as facilitation of interactions and engaging in caregiver-specific behaviors, showed significant differences in visitors’ behaviors toward the animals. When compared with results from a similar study on charismatic animals, the findings demonstrate that more staff encouragement and facilitation are needed to produce empathic behaviors for both charismatic and non-charismatic animals. These findings inform zoos’ and aquariums’ efforts to help visitors change their behavior to protect the environment. Facilitation strategies and implications for practice and future research are explored.
- Museology