Human Ecology

, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 361–369 | Cite as

Things We Like: Human Preferences among Similar Organisms and Implications for Conservation

  • David L. StokesEmail author
Original Research


Human preferences will increasingly determine many species’ prospects for survival. However, aside from a small number of survey-based studies of preference among disparate taxa, human species preferences have received little attention. I determined human aesthetic preferences among a relatively homogenous group, the penguins, from representation in all recently published, comprehensive, popular books of photographs of penguins (n = 4 books; 304 photographs). Representation of visually distinguishable types of penguins, measured by total photograph area, was highly skewed and rankings were highly concordant across books, suggesting large and commonly held differences in aesthetic appeal. Multiple regression analysis indicated that amount of warm color was the only significant determinant of representation, and warm color was highly correlated (r 2 = 0.96) with mean representation of the penguin types. Body size and neotenic form, traits found to influence human preferences among other animals, were not significant, suggesting that the bases of human species preferences differ by species type. The results of this study indicate that human aesthetic preferences discriminate finely among species and may be based on minor features. Conservationists must be vigilant to the potential for aesthetic responses to influence conservation efforts.

Key words

Human biodiversity preferences aesthetics of biodiversity biodiversity conservation penguins color 



Debbie Chiurco, Lily Douglas, and Andrea Freeman helped with data collection and refining the methodology. I thank Debbie Chiurco and Amy McKendry for valuable discussions of the ideas contained in the paper. I also thank Amy McKendry for her helpful critical review of the manuscript.


  1. Adobe Systems (2002). Photoshop 7.0. Adobe Systems Incorporated.Google Scholar
  2. Bishop, R. C., and Heberlein, T. A. (1979). Measuring Values of Extramarket Goods: Are Indirect Measures Biased? American Journal of Agricultural Economics 61: 926–930.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Boersma, P. D., and Stokes, D. L. (1995). Conservation: threats to penguin populations. In Williams, T. D. (ed.), The Penguins, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 127–139.Google Scholar
  4. Boyd, D. (1997). Eucalyptus removal on Angel Island. California Exotic Pest Plant Council 1997 Symposium Proceedings, 1–3.Google Scholar
  5. Brook, A., Zint, M., and De Young, R. (2003). Landowners’ Responses to An Endangered Species Act Listing and Implications for Encouraging Conservation. Conservation Biology 17: 1638–1649.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Burghardt, G. M., and Herzog, H. A. Jr. (1980). Beyond Conspecifics: Is Brer Rabbit Our Brother? BioScience 30: 763–768.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chester, J. (1996). The World of the Penguin, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, California.Google Scholar
  8. Chester, J. (2001). The Nature of Penguins, Celestial Arts, Berkeley, California.Google Scholar
  9. Coursey, D. L. (1998). The Revealed Demand for A Public Good: Evidence from Endangered and Threatened Species. New York University Environmental Law Journal 6: 411–449.Google Scholar
  10. Czech, B., Krausman, P. R., and Borkhartaria, R. (1998). Social Construction, Political Power, and Allocation of Benefits to Endangered Species. Conservation Biology 12: 1103–1112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Davis, L. S., and Renner, M. (2003). Penguins, Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.Google Scholar
  12. Diamond, P. A., and Hausman, J. A. (1994). Contingent Valuation: Is Some Number Better Than No Number? Journal of Economic Perspectives 8: 45–64.Google Scholar
  13. Diradourian, A. (2003). Global Warming.
  14. Gould, S. J. (1980). The Panda’s Thumb, W. W. Norton & Co., New York, pp. 95–107.Google Scholar
  15. Hirschman, E. C. (1994). Consumers and Their Animal Companions. Journal of Consumer Research 20: 616–632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Horne, P., Boxall, P. C., and Adamowicz, W. L. (2005). Multiple-use Management of Forest Recreation Sites: A Spatially Explicit Choice Experiment. Forest Ecology and Management 207: 189–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hutchins, M. (1995). Olympic Mountain Goat Controversy Continues. Conservation Biology 9: 1324–1326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. IUCN (2004). IUCN red list of threatened species. Downloaded on 18 September 2005.
  19. Kellert, S. R. (1993a). Value and Perception of Invertebrates. Conservation Biology 7: 845–855.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kellert, S. R. (1993b). The biological basis for human values of nature. In Kellert, S. R., and Wilson, E. O. (eds.), The Biophilia Hypothesis, Island, Washington, DC, pp. 42–69.Google Scholar
  21. Kellert, S. R. (1996). The Value of Life: Biological Diversity and Human Society, Island, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  22. Kellert, S. R., and Berry, J. K. (1980). Knowledge, affection, and basic attitudes toward animals in American society Phase III. U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Report, U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  23. Kiester, R. A. (1997). Aesthetics of Biological Diversity. Human Ecology Review 3: 151–157.Google Scholar
  24. Lanting, F. P. (1999). Penguin, Benedikt Taschen Verlag, Köln, Germany.Google Scholar
  25. Lawrence, E. A. (1989). Neoteny in American perceptions of animals. In Hoage, R. J. (ed.), Perceptions of Animals in American Culture, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, pp. 57–76.Google Scholar
  26. Lorenz, K. (1943). Die angborenen Formen mõglicher Erfahrung. Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie 3: 235–409.Google Scholar
  27. Lorenz, K. (1971). Part and parcel in animal and human societies. In Studies in Animal and Human Behavior, vol. 2, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, pp. 115–195.Google Scholar
  28. Lynch, W. (1997). Penguins of the World, Firefly Books, Willowdale, Ontario, Canada.Google Scholar
  29. McNamara, W. (2005). Representation of imperiled plants in botanic gardens: the influence of conservation status and human preference. Masters thesis, Hutchins School, Sonoma State University.Google Scholar
  30. Montgomery, C. A. (2002). Ranking the Benefits of Biodiversity: An Exploration of Relative Values. Environmental Management 65: 313–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Morris, D. (1967). The Naked Ape, McGraw-Hill, New York.Google Scholar
  32. Morris, D., and Morris, R. (1965). Men and Snakes, McGraw-Hill, New York.Google Scholar
  33. Morris, D., and Morris, R. (1966). Men and Pandas, McGraw-Hill, New York.Google Scholar
  34. Randall, A. (1986). Human preferences, economics, and the preservation of species. In Norton, B. G. (ed.), The Preservation of Species, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, pp. 79–109.Google Scholar
  35. Schafer, K. (2000). Penguin Planet: Their World, Our World, NorthWord, Minnetonka, Minnesota.Google Scholar
  36. Schuman, H., and Johnson, M. P. (1976). Attitudes and Behavior. Annual Review of Sociology 2: 161–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Shepard, P. (1978). Thinking Animals, Viking, New York.Google Scholar
  38. Stokes, D. L. (2006). Conservators of Experience. BioScience 56: 6–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ulrich, R. S. (1993). Biophilia, biophobia, and natural landscapes. In Kellert, S. R., and Wilson, E. O. (eds.), The Biophilia Hypothesis, Island, Washington, DC, pp. 73–137.Google Scholar
  40. Ward, P. I., Mosberger, N., Kistler, C., and Fischer, O. (1998). The Relationship between Popularity and Body Size in Zoo Animals. Conservation Biology 12: 1408–1411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Warner Independent Pictures (2005). March of the Penguins, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.Google Scholar
  42. Williams, T. D. (1995). The Penguins, Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  43. Wilson, E. O. (2002). The Future of Life, Knopf, New York.Google Scholar
  44. Zar, J. H. (1996). Biostatistical Analysis, 3rd Edition, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Interdisciplinary Arts and SciencesUniversity of Washington, BothellBothellUSA

Personalised recommendations