Skip to main content

Scientists are recruiting volunteers to examine and understand emotional responses to different animals.

Volunteers needed to help save ‘less popular’ species

Which species would you save from extinction: Elephants or newts? Toads or tigers?

Scientists from the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus want to find out.

They are recruiting volunteers for an interactive experience designed to examine and understand emotional responses to different animals.

Bias in favour of certain animals means less money is spent to protect “less popular” endangered species, and the researchers hope their findings will help conservationists develop new ways to publicise protection of such species.

“It is clear that people react more positively to species like polar bears and killer whales than to frogs and toads,” said Dr Thomas Davies, of the University’s Environment and Sustainability Institute.

“Understanding how conservation is influenced by these reactions is central to improving environmental work.

“Participants in our experiment will be taken on a tour of some of the world’s most endangered animals, while their emotional responses are monitored using scientific equipment. Don't worry, it doesn't hurt!”

Volunteers will be shown images of different animals, with species chosen from opposite ends of the popularity spectrum as measured by charitable donations and internet search data.

Subconscious responses will be monitored by measuring heartrate and skin conductance (similar to the technology used in lie detectors).

Afterwards, volunteers will be asked to divide up imaginary funding between various conservation projects.

Dr Davies said many conservation organisations publicise the plight of certain popular species to attract funds, allowing public perceptions to influence levels of investment.

“This cycle has led to large numbers of species threatened with extinction remaining largely absent from both popular concern and the conservation agenda,” he said.

The research project – called The Digital Zoo – will be open to over 18's at the university’s Penryn Campus, and will be touring selected venues in the Falmouth area from May to July. More details will be released soon.

To find out more or sign up, visit or The Digital Zoo on Facebook.

Date: 4 May 2017