Zoo visitors’ understanding of terms denoting research activity

Lloyd Carson

Zoos have increasingly sought to justify their existence by reference to a scientific role particularly in the domains of animal welfare and conservation. Given recent initiatives by the UK government to foster public engagement with science, it is timely to investigate public attitudes towards primary research activity by zoos. This study reports the views of 83 visitors to Edinburgh Zoo. Within certain items in a structured interview noun terms denoting research activity were manipulated (“research” versus “studies”) as was their qualification (adjective “scientific” present or absent before the noun term). “Research” was associated with a restricted and negative perception of investigatory activity. This effect was intensified when the noun term was preceded by “scientific”. It is concluded that there is a continuing need to challenge public perceptions, particularly of the phrase “scientific research”; that in the meantime zoos should perhaps exercise caution when using it in relation to their activities.

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