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Exploring the Relationship Between Empathy for Animals and Environmental Self-Efficacy in Zoo and Aquarium Visitors

Research Thesis by Linnea Johnson

The interconnected crises of climate change and biodiversity loss necessitate widespread behavior change on the individual and collective levels, and zoos and aquariums are uniquely positioned to galvanize this change. Understanding the factors that influence visitors’ behavioral intentions is vital to interpretation that inspires pro-environmental action. The purpose of this study was to explore the relationship between empathy for animals and environmental self-efficacy, and the ways in which they affect zoo and aquarium visitors’ intent to take conservation action. Quantitative survey data were collected from 264 visitors to four AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums using the Conservation Learning Instrument developed by Mast et al. (2018). Environmental self-efficacy was found to be significantly correlated with all measures of empathy for animals, and both constructs were significantly related to intent to take conservation action. Empathy for animals, environmental self-efficacy, and intent to take conservation action were significantly different between women and men and between guests who did and did not report an extra-special experience during their visit. These findings affirm and build upon those of existing literature and have implications for the roles of environmental self-efficacy and empathy for animals in zoo and aquarium research and practice.


Johnson, L. (2020). Exploring the relationship between empathy for animals and environmental self-efficacy in zoo and aquarium visitors. (Order No. 28001750). Available from Dissertations & Theses @ University of Washington WCLP; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (2437137079). Retrieved from


Aquarium, Conservation, Efficacy, Empathy, Museology, Zoo