Pro-environmental behaviour change and the role of zoos

Supervised by Prof Sarah Beck, Prof Peter Kraftl and co-produced together with Twycross Zoo

To apply for this project, please include ‘Beck & Twycross Zoo’ as the project descriptor in the subject heading of your email.

Zoos, once a place to display exotic animals for entertainment, are potential key players in extending environmental understanding in the general public through their scientific research and conservation projects and the opportunity for informal learning through zoo visits. Reflecting this important transition, Twycross Zoo will be opening the National Science and Conservation Centre (NSCC) in 2025, supported by £18M from the Government’s Levelling Up fund. Working with Twycross, this PhD project will explore the role of the zoo in changing people’s positive (pro-) environmental behaviours.

The supervisory team is a collaboration between Prof Sarah Beck, a developmental and cognitive psychologist, Prof Peter Kraftl, a human geographer of childhood, and Dr Richard Sands, Head of Conservation Education at Twycross Zoo. The project is a new interdisciplinary collaboration, and we are looking for an enthusiastic student who is interested in developing new methods and working with both quantitative and qualitative data. We don’t expect the successful applicant to already be an expert in both approaches. We will develop innovative mixed methods to understand how individuals’ expectations of the zoo are influenced by their social identities (specifically, socio-economic status and whether they live in rural or urban environments); how their expectations and social identities relate to their behaviour at the zoo; and how these experiences impact subsequent pro-environmental behaviours. The PhD student will contribute to developing a large scoping survey of people’s beliefs about zoos and pro-environmental behaviours, a quantitative study involving tracking visitors’ experience at the zoo and the relation to expectations and subsequent behaviour, and an intensive qualitative study using photo diaries and interviews to cerate participant-led narratives.

The PhD student will be a member of the diverse CENTRE-UB community of researchers as well as having the opportunity to join research groups in Psychology and Geography. We will also work to share our work with Associations of Zoos and Aquariums at national, European, and world levels.  

We are looking for a highly talented and dedicated PhD student with a 1st class or 2:1 degree in the field of Psychology or Human Geography. An MSc degree in a relevant area is desirable though not necessary. Previous experience with behavioural research, quantitative &/ qualitative methods, and working with human participants across the lifespan. 

Please note that this project will involve a significant amount of time on site at Twycross Zoo. Twycross is not easily accessible by public transport, and we will need to discuss practical arrangements for travel with potential students. 

Informal enquiries about the project prior to application can be directed to Sarah Beck