At The Wildlife Society Annual Conference that I’m sure you’re all tired of hearing about, I met an intelligent and charming young woman named Charmaine Pedrozo. Charmaine is a master’s student at North Carolina State University, and she was presenting a poster on a section of her master’s thesis.
This segment of Charmaine’s thesis dealt with people’s emotional responses to wildlife. Using an adapted tool called the Mood Meter (which Charmaine will describe below), she examined how participants responded to two species of North American wildlife: deer and coyotes (Canis latrans). I was intrigued by Charmaine’s research, so I asked her to participate in a Q&A for this blog. She graciously agreed.
First, please tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you initially become interested in wildlife conservation?
When I was a freshman at the University of Florida, I did not know what I wanted to pursue for my career. What I did know was that I wanted to do something with animals, since I spent a lot of time volunteering at local shelters and fostering kittens.
I started exploring career options by joining the Marine Biology Club, where I met friends who introduced me to another club: the Wildlife Society. In this club, I learned about the Wildlife Ecology and Conservation major, and have loved everything I learned since then! I got to explore Florida through various class field trips – learning all about local plants, animals, and ecosystems – and I would say that these experiences out in nature made me feel connected to the environment. I thus developed a passion for conserving nature: especially wild animals.
Building off the previous question, what made you decide to focus on the human dimensions of conservation in general, and people’s emotional reactions to wildlife in particular?
a.) Human Dimensions in General
In relation to wildlife, I completed various research positions where I collected data in the field. I conducted research on: snakes and frogs in Everglades National Park, northern mockingbirds on the University of Florida campus, and insects in several national parks on the west coast (and Peru).
Despite enjoying all that I did, I had a hard time explaining to family and friends exactly what I was doing and why it was important. That meant that I would also have a hard time explaining what I did to someone whom I did not even know: the general public.
With that, I thought that public communication skills were something I should develop so I could effectively communicate my knowledge to people who were not in my field. Therefore, for my Master’s program, I decided to pursue a project where I could focus on the human dimensions of conservation, and look more closely at people’s connections to wildlife and the environment.
b.) Emotional Reactions
One of the factors I am looking into is people’s emotions towards wildlife. Research has shown that human-wildlife encounters are emotionally-charged events. When you are hiking and suddenly come across a snake in your path, what do you automatically do? You jump because you got startled and did not expect to see a snake in front of you. In addition to that, you probably automatically assume that the snake is dangerous (as media almost always portray snakes as evil!), so you end up sweating with a racing heart.
Obviously, other people would react differently to a snake: some would be calmer, and some would even be happier (i.e. herpetologists). The key point is that people’s emotional responses to wildlife provide glimpses into how they truly feel towards a particular species. This, in turn, can affect how people think a certain wildlife population should be managed.
Please describe your research a little bit. What is the Mood Meter, and how does it work?
One of the ways that we think emotional responses towards wildlife could be measured is by adapting Yale University’s Mood Meter.
The Mood Meter is a tool designed by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence to increase people’s emotional intelligence. It is divided into four quadrants: red, blue, green, and yellow – with each color representing a different set of feelings. Red feelings are high energy, low pleasantness. Blue feelings are low energy, low pleasantness. Green feelings are low energy, high pleasantness. Yellow feelings are high energy, high pleasantness. For the purposes of our research project, we only chose emotions that we thought could be applicable in describing how people would feel towards wildlife.
In a survey to determine whether the Mood Meter could be successfully applied to wildlife species, we asked visitors from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences to answer a short survey about how they felt and what they thought about two common mammals in North Carolina: deer and coyote. To determine how they felt towards a specific species, they could click anywhere in the adapted Mood Meter. In the same survey, the visitors also answered questions regarding their wildlife value orientations, and were given the opportunity to type why they chose to answer the ways they did.
Note: The Mood Meter is a side project for my thesis. My overall thesis is looking at the broader impacts of citizen science participation through a project called Candid Critters: a wildlife camera-trapping project conducted throughout the state of North Carolina.
What were the results of your study? Specifically, were there any differences between the ways adults and children responded to the species in your investigation?
As the Mood Meter has never been applied to a wildlife context before, we compared people’s responses to already validated measurements such as the wildlife value orientation scale (anthropocentric to ecocentric) and bipolar scales (positive:negative and tense:relaxed). Additionally, respondents were able to clarify their answers through open-ended responses.
The results are the same whether it is with adults or with kids. Data analysis shows that the Mood Meter could effectively measure people’s pleasant/unpleasant emotions towards wildlife species, but not the intensity of emotions.
A possible explanation is that an emotion’s intensity depends on the situation/encounter. For example, an animal’s distance can affect how intense an emotion can be – an angry coyote located far away is a lot less threatening than an angry coyote only a few feet away. On the other hand, people’s positive or negative feelings towards a wildlife species can stay constant. Using the same example, no matter how far away the coyote is, if a person does not like coyotes, s/he will never claim to like them.
What would you say are the most important implications of your study?
When conducting research on people’s emotional responses towards wildlife, the Mood Meter is an effective tool. The adapted Mood Meter could be used to predict behavioral responses towards wildlife, which could give wildlife agencies glimpses into stakeholders’ feelings about management decisions regarding certain wildlife populations. In addition, educators can use the adapted Mood Meter to gauge how children feel towards wildlife species. This can be factored into lessons related to animals; that is, children will be more engaged in lessons with animals they already like.
Note: The adaptation of the Mood Meter is still in progress and could be better improved in the future.
I’d like to sincerely thank Charmaine Pedrozo for setting aside time to participate in this Q&A. Best of luck with your thesis, Charmaine!