Rechargers are expected to be looking for contemplative and/or restorative experiences. In this study, 4 percent had such motivations, reporting that they wanted a place to think and get away from the noise and activity of the city. Overall, they reported visiting aquariums more than zoos.

Among all the groups, most visitors (61 percent) said that their zoo or aquarium experience supported and reinforced their values and attitudes toward conservation. Many (54 percent) said their visits prompted them to reflect on how they can affect environmental problems and support conservation. This shift indicates that they began to see themselves as part of the solution. Almost half (42 percent) of all visitors believed that zoos and aquariums play an important role in conservation education and animal care, and a majority (57 percent) of visitors said that their experience strengthened their connection to nature.23

Identity as the Gateway to Deeper Engagement with Science

This research suggests that pinpointing identity-related motivations behind visits to zoos and aquariums could help educators figure out ways to better meet the needs of their visitors. For example, because explorers thrive on novelty, a way to reach them may be to offer temporary exhibits or in-depth programs, as well as more challenging experiences. Opportunities for social interaction could be expanded for facilitators by offering meetings with staff and a designated place to go for discussion after their experience or by providing written materials and labels that inspire questioning and conversation. Similarly, experience seekers might enjoy a unique program that surpasses other local attractions, and professionals/hobbyists can be tapped to serve as volunteers. For rechargers, areas for reflection could be created and programs offered at quieter times of the day or year.

Although this model was tested in a museum setting, it also can be applied to other informal venues—even an everyday setting like an individual’s home. The following case illustrates this point.

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