Nicole Leigh Conklin, Ph.D., is a 2023 graduate of the Ph.D. Program in Environmental Studies at Antioch University, New England

Dissertation Committee:

  • Meaghan Guckian, PhD, Committee Chair
  • Elizabeth McCann, PhD, Committee Member
  • Joy Kubarek, PhD, Committee Member


reflection, reflection intervention, mixed methods, free-choice learning, sharks

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Zoos and aquariums (Z/As) are conservation-oriented free-choice learning institutions. In order to support their mission of advancing wildlife conservation, Z/As deliberately design opportunities and experiences to meaningfully engage visitors in understanding, caring for, and acting on behalf of exhibited species. Conservation psychologists and practitioners have applied values-based and models of human behavior to design and evaluate experiences aimed to influence myriad cognitive, affective, and behavioral outcomes. However, there is little research exploring the role of and opportunity for reflection within these institutions. Models of reflection and reflective practice, which are rooted in both theory and empirical data, stress the importance of reflection in achieving transformative learning outcomes. Furthermore, research within higher education and workplace settings find that reflective interventions can be utilized to enhance reflective abilities and meet cognitive and affective outcomes. While preliminary Z/A literature finds a positive relationship between visitors’ self-initiated reflection in exhibit spaces and affective and cognitive reactions (Luebke & Matiasek, 2013), reflective interventions have not been explicitly tested within these institutions. Across two studies, this dissertation aimed to better understand whether and to what extent aquarium visitors naturally reflect at a shark exhibit and furthermore, examine the efficacy of a reflective intervention on visitors’ self-reported curiosity and affect. Study 1 finds that exhibit dwell time and visitor motivation are related to visitors’ natural reflection at the exhibit. Study 2, which incorporated a mixed methods approach, did not find a statistical difference between the conditions (e.g., control, pre and post reflection, and post-only reflection) on visitors’ self-reported curiosity and affect. However, qualitative data finds that reflections occurred after the exhibit included less negative affective comments about sharks and more surface level reflections than those occurring prior to the exhibit. The implication of these findings are discussed, along with limitations and future directions for research and practitioners examining the role of reflection within Z/As.


Nicole Leigh Conklin

ORCID Scholar ID# 0000-0001-6880-1240