Can Providing Positive Interactions with Snakes Change a Person’s Perception of Dangerous Wildlife Interactions?
Date of Award
Master of Science (MS) in Biology
Dr. Sarah J. Wofford-Mares
Due to a long co-evolutionary history between placental mammals and reptiles, primates demonstrate aversive responses to snakes. In humans, this can result in ophidiophobia, or the fear of snakes which can arise due to cultural backgrounds, traumatic experiences, or fear instilled by others. However, these reptiles fill essential roles in ecosystems. Conservation and outreach efforts are important to help our population understand snakes’ role in our lives and the state’s broader biodiversity. Negative experiences or preconceptions about snakes can make this message hard to share with the public. Educators can help prevent intentional harm to some of these organisms through targeted education and outreach programs. The goal of the experiment outlined in this thesis was twofold: first, the author wanted to quantify the perception of snakes to individuals based on demographic variables (e.g., sex, age, education level). Second, the author wanted to measure the efficacy of an educational program to change these perceptions. The author surveyed individuals in groups ranging in size from five to 64 individuals in an educational setting. Participants viewed one of two presentations: one with pictures of snakes or one with live snakes. Results revealed educational programs can enhance understanding and appreciation of an organism commonly viewed as threatening to humans. However, these results also reveal that the benefit of this type of education is context dependent as perceptions were influenced by demographic information and presentation location.