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Social Narratives Surrounding Dolphins: Q Method Study

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image of Society & Animals

In preparation for development of an exhibit on the cognitive abilities of dolphins, the Wildlife Conservation Society sought to determine potential visitor's social perspectives about dolphin intelligence, and how these beliefs might influence acceptance of scientific information. The study reported here used Q methodology to identify these underlying social perspectives. The study of adults and the study of children each revealed three distinct perspectives. While consensus emerged among adults on points about dolphins' high intelligence and communication abilities, the three perspectives differed in their acceptance of the extent of self-awareness, learning capacity, and affinity for humans shown by dolphins. Among children, consensus emerged about dolphins' physical abilities, but analysis found differences in belief regarding instinctive versus intentional behavior, mystical connections, and dolphins' relationship to humans. Agreement among all of these perspectives, particularly on the topic of communication, suggests powerful common ways to begin thinking about dolphin cognition. Conversely, the unique attributes of each perspective, and the potential for interaction between individuals with differing perspectives in an exhibit setting, provide opportunities to engage visitors in discussion about animal intelligence.


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