This finding has been borne out in several studies focusing on conservation; these studies indicate that an individual’s prior interest and involvement in conservation may serve as a better predictor of their responses and actions than typical demographic variables, such as age, gender, ethnicity, or education. Visitors with high interest in conservation stopped at more of the exhibits in a conservation-themed aquarium exhibition,6 and zoo visitors’ emotional responses to animals were more closely associated with emotional or personality variables7 than demographic variables.

People with an interest in science are likely to be motivated learners in science; they are more likely to seek out challenge and difficulty, use effective learning strategies, and make use of feedback.8 These behaviors help learners continue to develop interest, further engaging in activities that promote enjoyment and learning. People who come to informal environments with developed interests are likely to set goals, self-regulate, and exert effort easily in the domains of their interests, and these behaviors often come to be habits, supporting their ongoing engagement.9

Cultivating interest and motivation is a high priority for many informal science educators and has been explored and documented extensively in research, evaluations, and the accounts of practitioners. Many experiences are designed to capture and sustain participants’ interest. There is evidence that the availability or existence of stimulating, attractive learning environments can generate the interest that leads to participation.10 In fact, interactivity, which was discussed extensively in Chapter 3, may be useful in part because it generates and holds participants’ interest.

There are many research-based frameworks for understanding interest and motivation and the role they play in the learning process. One such framework intended to enhance the quality of museum exhibits was developed by museum evaluator Deborah L. Perry.11 The model has six components:

  1. Curiosity—The visitor is surprised and intrigued.

  2. Confidence—The visitor has a sense of competence.

  3. Challenge—The visitor perceives that there is something to work toward.

  4. Control—The visitor has a sense of self-determination and control.

  5. Play—The visitor experiences sensory enjoyment and playfulness.

  6. Communication—The visitor engages in meaningful social interaction.

The following case study drawn from Perry’s work with the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis suggests how the model can be applied to exhibit design.

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