In the video below, UB’s Sharon Glazer and the National Aquarium’s Heather Doggett take you behind the scenes of the institutions’ innovative partnership.
The University of Baltimore’s research work with the National Aquarium over the past year-plus has been so extensive, it may seem that there can’t possibly be another data-gathering stone left to turn. But faculty, students and aquarium staff alike have assured us that’s not the case. Michael Frederick, assistant professor in UB’s Division of Applied Behavioral Sciences, has taken the lead on additional research this fall. Here’s a primer on the work he and his students are doing.
Frederick began researching with a small team of undergraduate and graduate psychology students late last summer. This fall, he’s engaged the students in his undergraduate PSYC 308: Research Methods and Statistics I course, and the goal is to survey about 250 people—aquarium visitors and members and the general public—about their environmental attitudes and behaviors.
“The aquarium, of course, is very interested in developing strategies that encourage people to preserve natural resources and generally be eco-friendly in their behaviors and attitudes,” Frederick explains. So he and his students are assessing ways in which the aquarium can make its conservation messaging most relevant and accessible to the greatest number of people.
To gather data about what kinds of messages work best for different kinds of people, they’re conducting five-minute written surveys that get at two different variables. “We’re trying to explore the relationship between life-history strategies—fast or slow—and environmental attitudes and behaviors,” Frederick says. This means they’re looking at how people take a long-term or short-term approach to life decisions and how those approaches might impact their conservation choices.
During the summer, Frederick and his team were stationed just outside the aquarium’s main entrance with surveys on clipboards. “By asking people [to participate] on Pratt Street and in the [aquarium’s] plaza, we’re able to get a pretty wide sample,” he says. “We get people who are about to go to the aquarium. We get people who just came out of the aquarium. We get people who’ve never been to the aquarium. And in some cases, we’re hoping to get people before and after they go to the aquarium.”
With this last group, the researchers are attempting to determine if a visit to the aquarium might change attitudes and behaviors. Because the survey is administered anonymously, the researchers gave survey-takers playing cards on their way into the aquarium and requested they bring the playing cards back to the researchers on the visitors’ way out; this strategy allowed the researchers to match the before-and-after survey responses to identify differences in answers.
This fall, students collected data via surveys administered at the aquarium, on campus and online.
When the data gathering is complete, Frederick and his researchers “will be doing the analysis and then presenting the core results reports to the aquarium and possibly working on some joint presentations at conferences,” he says.
The ultimate goal of this research is to link life-history theory and evolutionary psychology to conservation biology. “And they’re two very sort-of separate areas that don’t really have a lot of cross-communication currently,” Frederick says. “Conservation biology is oriented and focused on preserving the environment, so it makes sense that psychologists should be involved, especially psychologists that understand how different personalities respond differently to various arguments.”
But beyond the intended outcomes of the research are the benefits to those involved, Frederick says: “There are broader goals of the partnership, which include things like giving students real-world, hands-on experience and helping the aquarium develop better outreach programs and training approaches.”