Research Article

Measuring Intrinsic Traits of Children at Zoos

Interdisciplinary Journal of Environmental and Science Education, 2021, 17(4), e2246,
Full Text (PDF)


Zoos are in a unique position to affect the development of youth in ways that are consistent with cultivating pro-environmental behaviors. The purpose of this study was to examine three intrinsic traits of youth important to the goals of conservation education: prior knowledge about animals, interest in animals, and value for animals. The framework of this study is the conceptual model of learning that posits that any changes that occur during a single visit to an informal learning institution (such as a zoo) will be affected and informed by the intrinsic traits of the individual and various external factors. This study explored three intrinsic traits predicted to be important for informal learning. The research design followed a constructivist design meant to capture measurements of prior knowledge, interest, and value from the participants’ own perspectives. This study describes these three traits in a sample of 37 youth between the ages of 7 and 14, largely zoo members, attending the zoo with their parents. In particular, I describe unique methods of measuring these three traits including a drawing activity meant to assess the children’s construction of knowledge about animals, and questionnaires meant to assess the youth’s interest and value. The data analysis in this paper provides descriptions of the three traits as they are constructed among the youth participants in order to inform future correlations between intrinsic traits and in-zoo behavior. The results of the study indicated that youth organize their knowledge about animals around ecological and morphological concepts and that this forms the basis for their interest in and value for animals.


zoos informal education free-choice education intrinsic traits conceptual model of learning constructivist


Burris, A. (2021). Measuring Intrinsic Traits of Children at Zoos. Interdisciplinary Journal of Environmental and Science Education, 17(4), e2246.
Burris, A. (2021). Measuring Intrinsic Traits of Children at Zoos. Interdisciplinary Journal of Environmental and Science Education, 17(4), e2246.
Burris A. Measuring Intrinsic Traits of Children at Zoos. INTERDISCIP J ENV SCI ED. 2021;17(4):e2246.
Burris A. Measuring Intrinsic Traits of Children at Zoos. INTERDISCIP J ENV SCI ED. 2021;17(4), e2246.
Burris, Alexandra. "Measuring Intrinsic Traits of Children at Zoos". Interdisciplinary Journal of Environmental and Science Education 2021 17 no. 4 (2021): e2246.
Burris, Alexandra "Measuring Intrinsic Traits of Children at Zoos". Interdisciplinary Journal of Environmental and Science Education, vol. 17, no. 4, 2021, e2246.


  1. Allen, S. (2002). Looking for learning in visitor talk: A methodological exploration. Learning Conversations In Museums. G. Leinhardt, K. Crowley and K. Knutson. Mahwah, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: 259-303.
  2. Ash, D. (2003). Dialogic inquiry in life science conversations of family groups in a museum. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 40(2). 138-162.
  3. Bamberg, S., & Moser, G. (2007). Twenty years after Hines, Hungerford, and Tomera: A new meta-analysis of psycho-social determinants of pro-environmental behavior. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 27, 14-25.
  4. Barriault, C., & Pearson, D. (2010). Assessing exhibits for learning in science centers: A practical tool. Visitor Studies, 13(1). 90-106.
  6. Carr, N. (2016). An analysis of zoo visitors’ favourite and least favourite animals. Tourism Management Perspectives, 20. 70-76.,see%20tend%20not%20to%20appeal.
  7. Christidou, D. (2013). Bringing meaning into making: How do visitors tag an exhibit as social when visiting a museum. The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, 6(1). 73-85.
  8. Chung, J., Cannady, M. A., Schunn, C., Dorph, R., & Bathgate, M., (2016) Measures Technical Brief: Fascination in Science. Retrieved from:
  9. 20160331.pdf
  10. Crowley, K., Callanan, M.A., Jipson, J.L., Galco, J., Topping, K., & Shrager, J. (2000). Shared scientific thinking in everyday parent-child activity. Science Education, 85(6). 712-732.
  11. Falk, J. (2006). An identity-centered approach to understanding museum learning. Curator, 49(2). 151-166.
  13. Falk, J. H., & Adelman, L. M. (2003). Investigating the impact of prior knowledge and interest on aquarium visitor learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 40(2). 163-176.
  14. Falk, J. H., & Dierking, L. D. (2013). The Museum Experience Revisited. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press Inc.
  15. Falk, J. H., Heimlich, J. E., & Foutz, S. (2009). Free-choice learning and the environment. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press.
  16. Falk, J., Moussouri, T., & Coulson, D. (1998). The effect of visitors' agendas on museum learning. Curator, 41(2), 107-120.
  17. Geerdts, M. S., Van de Walle, G. A., & LoBue, V. (2015). Parent-child conservations about animals in informal learning environments. Visitor Studies, 18(1). 39-63.
  18. Grack Nelson, A., & Cohn, S. (2015). Data collection methods for evaluating museum programs and exhibitions. Journal of Museum Education, 40(1). 27-36.
  19. Hidi, S., & Renninger, K. A. (2006). The four-phase model of interest development. Educational Psychologist, 41(2). 111-127.
  20. Jensen, E. (2013). Evaluating children's conservation biology learning at the zoo. Conservation Biology, 28 (4). 1004-1011.
  21. Johnston, R. J. (1998). Exogenous factors and visitor behavior: A regression analysis of exhibit viewing time. Environment and Behavior, 30. 332-347.
  22. Kellert, S. R. (1985). Attitudes toward animals: Age-related development among children. The Journal of Environmental Education, 16(3). 29-39.
  23. Kellert, S. R., & Berry, J. K. (1987). Attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors toward wildlife as affected by gender. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 15. 363-371.
  24. Kidd, A.H., & Kidd, R.M. (1996). Developmental factors leading to positive attitudes toward wildlife and conservation. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 47. 119-125.
  25. Kimble, G. (2014). Children learning about biodiversity at an environment centre, a museum and at live animal shows. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 41. 48-57.
  27. Kisiel, J., Rowe, S., Vartabedian, M.A., & Kopczak, C. (2012). Evidence for family engagement in scientific reasoning at interactive animal exhibits. Science Education, 96(6). 1047-1070.
  28. Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., & Gail, H. (1994). Toward a unifying social cognitive theory of career and academic interest, choice, and performance. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 45(1). 79-122.
  29. Moss, A., & Esson, M. (2010). Visitor interest in zoo animals and the implications for collection planning and zoo education programmes. Zoo Biology, 29. 715-731.
  31. Myers, O. E. Jr., Saunders, C. D., & Garrett, E. (2004). What do children think animals need? Developmental trends. Environmental Education Research, 10(4). 545-562.
  33. Ohio Department of Education (2011). Ohio’s new learning standards: science standards. Retrieved from:
  34. Palmquist, S., & Crowley, K. (2007). From teachers to testers: How parents talk to novice and expert children in a natural history museum. Science Education, 91(5). 783-804.
  35. Perry, D. L. (2012). What makes learning fun: Principles for the design of intrinsically motivating museum exhibits. Lanham, Maryland: AltaMira Press.
  36. Renninger, K. A., & Hidi, S. (2011). Revisiting the conceptualization, measurement, and generation of interest. Educational Psychologist, 40(3). 168-184.
  38. Sax, L. J. (1994). Retaining tomorrow’s scientists: Exploring the factors that keep male and female college students interested in science careers. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 1(1), 45-61.
  39. Skibins, J. C., & Powell, R. B. (2013). Conservation caring: Measuring the influence of zoo visitors' connection to wildlife on pro-conservation behaviors. Zoo Biology, 32, 528-540.
  41. Tunnicliffe, S. D. (1996). Conversations within primary school parties visiting animal specimens in a museum and zoo. Journal of Biological Education, 30(2). 130.
  43. Uitto, A., & Salorenta, S. (2010). The relationship between secondary school students' environmental and human values, attitudes, interests and motivations. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 9, 1866-1872.
  44. Wagoner, B., & Jenson, E. (2010). Science learning at the zoo: Evaluating children's developing understanding of animals and their habitats. Psychology & Society, 3(1). 65-76.'s_Developing_Understanding_of_Animals_and_their_Habitats


Creative Commons License
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.