Zoos and aquariums provide the closest and widest contact to wildlife that most people will ever experience in a lifetime. A visit, gives people the opportunity to see rare wild animals up close and in a safe and controlled way, animals whose natural habitats may be extremely remote locations around the globe and inaccessible.
Usually, people are more responsive to challenges that affect their sensing mechanism, such as hearing, touching, seeing or smelling. Close and positive contact with nature has significant relevance to increase their concerns and influence their behavior (Vugt, 2014). When animals in the zoos and aquariums are presented in a position of respect and equality, and surrounded by positive messages, this can trigger feelings that range from curiosity to admiration. Which can bring out concerns of preservation for those species and their natural habitats. In addition, positive sensory experiences of nature could also help to promote environmental changes with sometimes long-lasting beneficial effects (Vugt, 2014).
Even though most of the world’s population live in urban areas (https://ourworldindata.org/urbanization), evolutionary history mainly includes living in natural environments, making humans naturally attracted to nature (Ohman & Mineka, 2001). Another psychological biases that is very relevant to this discussion is social imitation. A prevailing strategy in a group of living species is the unconscious process of imitating what the majority is doing, for the costs of sole learning are considerably high (Gigerenzer & Todd, 1999; Richerson & Boyd, 2006 ; Vugt, 2014). Zoos and aquariums are usually frequented by a group of staff and visitors that already care for conservation, making it a susceptible ambience leading to a temporary social imitation to permanent conservation behavior.
Sensing mechanisms and social imitation are the psychological biases that, if properly exhibited, it encourages connection and concern, motivating people to want to help, raising a conservation culture.
Ohman, A., & Mineka, S. (2001). Fears, phobias, and preparedness: Toward an evolved module of fear and fear learning. Psychological Review
Gigerenzer, G., & Todd, P. M. (1999). Simple heuristics that make us smart. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Richerson, P. J., & Boyd, R. (2006). Not by genes alone: How culture transformed human evolution. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
VanVugt, M., Griskevicius, V., & Schultz, P. W. (2014). Naturally green: Harnessing “stone age” biases to foster environmental conservation behavior. Social Issues and Policy Review, 8, 1-32.