Public Perceptions of Spiders and Identifying Trends in Community Science Participation
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Spiders are ecologically important invertebrates with potential to advance the fields of medicine, physiology, technology, genetics, and biological control. Despite this, spiders are highly understudied due to negative perceptions and arachnophobia, especially in the western world. Engagement through community science may be a way to bridge the gap between people and spiders, which may reduce fear and unnecessary killing of spiders and increase support for research on spiders. For this study, I aimed to better understand perceptions about spiders and to investigate how participation in a spider community science activity influences perceptions of college-age students at a southwestern university. I created an engaging spider activity and used a Spider Attitude Questionnaire to capture perceptions of spiders in four dimensions: Scientistic, Ecologistic, Negativistic, and Naturalistic. I analyzed initial perceptions and motivations, compared pre- and post-activity responses to measure any shift in perceptions, and analyzed follow-through in regard to major and recruitment method. I expected that initial perceptions would be negative with a variety of participant motivations. I also expected perceptions to shift positively after participation, and that recruitment and major would have an effect on follow-through. Participant initial perceptions were overall leaning towards negative, and the most frequent motivation to participate was because it was recommended by someone they knew. There was a significant negative shift in the Scientistic dimension from pre- to post-survey, and a significant positive shift in the Naturalistic dimension from pre- to post-survey. Recruitment method was found to have a significant effect on follow-through, with E-mail and in person methods being not nearly as effective as recruitment by proxy (through someone they knew - such as a teacher or friend), therefore community scientists should consider this method of recruitment to improve participation and data collection from the community.