Family Interpretations of Conservation Messaging in an Aquarium
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Aquaria provide opportunities for families to interact with nature through a controlled environment coupled with relevant messaging. Conservation, a socio-scientific issue, can be a complex and controversial topic. Aquarium staff are often tasked with making decisions about how to present such messages through exhibits. The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand family interpretations of a socio-scientific message being communicated through an aquarium exhibit. We used data from exhibit observations, interviews with staff and family visitors, and video observations of visitor interactions to identify how an aquarium chose to present a water conservation message and how adult and children visitors interpreted the message after exhibit interactions. We used inductive and deductive approaches to analyze data identifying exhibit design elements, intended messaging, interpreted messaging, and biometric focal interactions by visitors. We found evidence that adults and children have different experiences and understandings even when interacting with an exhibit concurrently, adults spent more time on signage and children spent more time on live organisms. We also found most visitors ended their experience with a partial interpretation of the intended message. Thoughtful design is needed to support varying ways visitors interact with exhibits to improve messaging interpretation outcomes.