Does watching live webcams inspire people to help save animals?
We’ve all probably spent way too much time watching hatchlings in bald eagle nests, polar bears and other animals on live video streams from webcams. We’re hooked because, of course, baby animals are adorable, and adults are pretty fascinating themselves.
A 2012 study discovered that looking at cute animals actually improves our work performance and concentration. Could live webcams have an even bigger benefit for animals? Researchers are now looking into whether virtually interacting with animals inspires people to get involved with helping to save them.
Jeffrey Skibins and Ryan Sharp, both assistant professors of park management and conservation at Kansas State University, are spending the next several years surveying people who watch brown bears on the “bearcam” at Katmai National Park in Alaska (the camera is provided by the multimedia organization explore) as well as visitors to the park who see the bears in person.
Among the questions in the survey are, “On a scale of one to nine, would you say that your emotional sense of well-being would be diminished by the extinction of brown bears?” and “Are you willing to take the next step and engage in some sort of what we would call a pro-conservation behavior?”
The purpose of this study is to see whether people form emotional connections with animals by watching them on webcams. The researchers will gradually expand the study to include other animals like elephants, birds and giraffes.
“Live-streaming cameras are a new and novel technology in the wildlife viewing experience,” Skibins said in a statement. “This reach and technology can really personalize the experience and allow a visitor—whether virtual or real—to be engaged in something that may be five continents away.”
Ultimately, the researchers hope to find new ways to use web-based technology to engage global audiences in conservation efforts. For example, park managers could develop ways for virtual viewers in Brazil to help the brown bears in Katmai National Park.
“Live-stream videos can become alternate ways to experience a national park,” Sharp said in the statement. “We want to engage people, perhaps in urban environments who may not have access to Alaska, and we want to know what that means for the park resources, for the animals, for the ecological conditions and for the visitor experience.”