Norwich Research Park Featured PhD Programmes
Health Data Research UK Featured PhD Programmes
London School of Economics and Political Science Featured PhD Programmes

The influence of agency and engagement with animals on conservation and welfare education in zoos

   Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

Manchester United Kingdom Ecology Evolution Education Psychology Zoology

About the Project

A defining role of zoos and museums is to educate visitors about animal welfare and conservation. One important aspect for the educational value of zoos and museums is the emotional connections visitors form. If visitors have a personal interest in the animals or an emotional affinity, they are more likely to learn from the visit. There are, however, few direct measures of how much visitors learn while visiting zoos and museums, and their attitudes toward these institutions and conservation and welfare more generally.

To help determine whether zoos and museums are successful in their educational mission, and to explore how this might be improved, the PhD student will run a series of studies to assess how emotional connection with animals impacts on the stance of adults and children toward nature conservation. The first project will look at look at whether educational messages have a lasting impact by contacting participants some time after their visit. The second project will ask whether people are more likely to show a concern for species that are portrayed as common (but not too abundant) rather than rare. The third project will look at the effort and involvement of the zoo visitors in their perception of the welfare and conservation of the animals; making it easier for people to see the animals, particularly when there are many visitors, might actually diminish the concern for the species and their conservation status. The final project will determine whether forming a connection with animals has an influence on the educational experience associated with seeing them. The research will explore the role of other-regarding concerns, as well as social engagement, as psychological factors that can influence the perception of animal welfare and conservation. The work will be of interest to PhDs wishing to pursue a career in conservation education.

Training/techniques to be provided:

The PhD student will receive training in surveying and interviewing, as well as experimental design and analysis. The PhD student will gain work experience in a museum and zoo, and will establish ties with those communities. The project will train social scientists and to advance knowledge of relevance to public service and policy, namely the educational mission of zoos and museums.

Entry Requirements:

Candidates are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) a minimum upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in conservation biology or psychology, with a preference being given for firsts (A). A masters degree with distinction or merit is highly desirable. Candidates with experience working with adults and children are encouraged to apply.

For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website ( Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor. On the online application form select PhD Psychology

For international students we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences. For more information please visit

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from self-funded students. This project has a Band 2 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website (View Website). For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website (View Website).
Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website View Website


Ballantyne, R., & Packer, J. (2006). Promoting environmentally sustainable attitudes and behaviour through free‐choice learning experiences: what is the state of the game? Environmental Education Research, 11(3), 281-295.

Jensen, K. (2016). "Prosociality." Current Biology 26(16): R748-752.

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.

Rennie, L. J., & Johnston, D. J. (2004). The nature of learning and its implications for research on learning from museums. Science Education, 88(S1), S4-S16.

Dunbar, R. I. M., Mac Carron, P. & Shultz, S., 2018. Primate social group sizes exhibit a regular scaling pattern with natural attractors. Biology Letters, 14 (1), 20170490.

Email Now