Researchers have also used self-report techniques to investigate whether prior levels of interest were related to learning about conservation (Falk and Adelman, 2003; Taylor, 1994). Falk and Adelman (2003), for example, showed significant differences in knowledge, understanding, and attitudes for subgroups of participants based on their prior levels of knowledge and attitudes. Researchers replicated this approach with successful results in a subsequent study at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (Dierking et al., 2004).
Studies of public understanding of science have used questionnaires to assess levels of interest on particular topics. For example, they have documented variation in people’s reported levels of interest in science topics: The general adult population in both the United States and Europe is mildly interested in space exploration and nuclear energy; somewhat more than mildly interested in new scientific discoveries, new technologies, and environmental issues; and fairly interested in medical discoveries (European Commission, 2001; National Science Board, 2002).
An important component of interest, as noted, is positive affect (Hidi and Renninger, 2006). Whereas positive affect toward science is often regarded as a primary outcome of informal learning, this outcome is notoriously difficult to assess. Positive affect can be transient and can develop even when conscious attention is focused elsewhere making it difficult for an observer to assess. Various theoretical models have attempted to map out a space of emotional responses, either in terms of a small number of basic emotions or emotional dimensions, such as pleasure, arousal, and dominance, and to apply these in empirical research (Plutchik, 1961; Russell and Mehrabian, 1977; Isen, 2004).
Analysis of facial expressions has been a key tool in studying affect, with mixed results. Ekman’s seven facial expressions have been used to assess fleeting emotional states (Ekman and Rosenberg, 2005). Dancu (2006) used this method in a pilot study to assess emotional states of children as they engaged with exhibits and compared these observations to reports by children and their caregivers, finding low agreement among all measures. Kort, Reilly, and Picard (2001) have created a system of analyzing facial expressions suited to capturing emotions relevant to learning (such as flow, frustration, confusion, eureka), but her methods require special circumstances (e.g., the subject must sit in a chair) and do not allow for naturalistic study in large spaces, thus complicating application of this approach many informal settings. Ma (2006) used a combination of open-ended and semantic-differential questions, in conjunction with a self-assessment mannequin. Physiological measures (skin conductance, posture, eye movements, EEG, EKG) relevant to learning are being developed (Mota and Picard, 2003; Lu and Graesser, in press; Jung, Makeig, Stensmo, and Seinowski, 1997).
Discourse analysis has been another important method for naturalistic study of emotion during museum visits. Allen (2002), for example, coded visitors’ spontaneous articulations of their emotions using three categories of