Emotional Dimensions of Watching Zoo Animals: An Experience Sampling Study Building on Insights from Psychology



Abstract  There is little research about how visitors to zoos and aquariums respond emotionally to the animals they experience. The research that does exist has seldom been informed by current psychological literature on affect, which examines the nature and roles of sentiments, moods, emotions, and affective traits. Emotion is multidimensional: it focuses on a person's core goals; directs attention and interest; arouses the body for action; and integrates social group and cultural factors. It is thus a central component of meaning-making. This article provides an overview of the literature on emotion as it applies to human emotional responses to animals. Informed by this literature, this paper presents results from a research study conducted at a zoo. Subjects (279 adults) were each electronically paged once while viewing one of three zoo animals (snake, okapi, or gorilla). Subjects completed scales on 17 specific emotions, seven items measuring evaluation and arousal, and other scales and responses to the animal. Four patterns of emotions emerged, ranging from “equal opportunity” emotions to “highly selective” emotions. The variables that were most important in influencing emotions were not demographic ones, but the kind of animal, subject's emotionality, relation to the animal, and other items predicted by emotion theory. Implications for biophilia, conservation, and the study of emotional responses to animals are discussed.