Thursday, February 11, 2016

Exploring the motivations of geocachers

I came across another academic paper on geocaching a few days ago.  This one was a quantitative research study, which is more my area of expertise than the previous article I discussed.

The researchers were interested in gathering data from actual geocachers regarding the motivations that lie behind their hobby.  Farvardin & Forehand (2013) created two surveys.  The first was an open-ended version, that simply asked geocachers to list their motivations for playing the game, without any leading questions.  They gathered information from an impressive number of players (766) and analyzed the information from the 524 English responses to come up with the following main reported motivations for geocaching:

They collected other data as well, such as people's least favourite experiences while caching, aspects of their most memorable adventures, how people were first introduced to geocaching, and differences in responses from German and Japanese geocachers.

All of this qualitative data was used to formulate their second survey, which took the above main motivations and asked questions regarding each one in true/false, multiple choice, pick lists, and scales.  This allowed them to confirm the above patterns in a more solid manner, and use statistics to look for significant patterns.

They managed to collect data from 1509 geocachers from 26 countries for their second survey - an even more impressive number!  They collected interesting data on gender differences, education level, age range, and geocaching experience level, and compared this with the value each group places on the different motivations reported above.

There is a wealth of data represented in easy-to-read graphs that I recommend anyone check out if they are interested.  With so much data, it can be difficult to tease a story out of it, and I suppose for an undergraduate academic paper, that particular in-depth analysis of data was not required.  They do pose an interesting conclusion though, which I will post here in full:

"As  researchers  we  conclude  that  there  are  patterns  in  geocachers.  Many  people  admit  to  spending  much  of  their  free  time  thinking  about  Geocaching  even  planning  their  vacations  around  it.  There  are  several  strong  motivations  driving  Geocachers  around  the  world  to  participate.  Enjoying  nature  and  seeing  new  places  are  large  motivations.  While  caching  for  the  numbers  does attract  a  certain type of cacher, they seem to be the minority. 

We classify there to be three central types of geocachers. The  travelers are those that geocache  for the experience, it is not a need to them. The  addicted are those that are  competing for first to finds,  caching with specific intention in mind and strong determination to achieve it.  Finally , the  adventurers ,  who  want to explore  and don’t mind trekking far distances or up mountains, they will look for more than  20 minutes for a cache, they are driven by the entire experience, the path to the find, the cache and the  view. Geocachers  are  not  stationary  in  these  types,  they  can  be  combination  geocachers,  trending  in  two  particular  types  or  flowing  through  all  of  them;  they  can  even  fall  outside  of  these  rough  classifications. Further  data  analysis  and  possibly  an  additional  survey  would  be  necessary  to  confirm  these types."  

(Farvardin & Forehand (2013))

These hypotheses about different 'types' of geocachers seem to be only loosely extracted from their data, but they are interesting nonetheless, if only for the fact that they highlight that there may be fundamentally different reasons why some people geocache.

The family that only goes geocaching with their children, vs. the lone cacher who racks up dozens of 'finds' per day, vs. the occasional geocacher who does it a few times a year, all seem like they would necessarily have different motivations.

The list of motivations they gathered from the first survey also highlights the different motivations there must be for any given individual who engages in the sport.  Critically examined, however, there is necessarily much information missing.  The first survey only gathered the motivations that geocachers themselves are aware of - what about motivations that none of us are aware of?  Before reading Zeng's 2011 article (linked in previous post), I did not realize that part of the appeal of geocaching for me personally was that transient connection with other people's personal spaces.  I never would have reported that on a survey, and I'm sure most wouldn't (it doesn't appear in Farvardin & Forehand's list of motivations at all). Yet, it seems to be a powerful motivating factor for many people, when the content of cache descriptions and logs are examined.

One could argue that this particular 'hidden' motivation falls under the label of exploring 'new places' - but does that really tell the whole story?  I'm sure there are a myriad of other subtly hidden but powerful motivations that we may all be unaware of.

This of course reminds me of my preferred field, Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), and how we cannot expect people's self-reports to be the reason they engage in any kind of behaviour.  I wonder if there's somehow an ABA research idea to come out of all of this...

I'm left feeling somewhat unsatisfied after writing this post.  Yes, I wanted to report on this interesting research, but I wanted to explore this idea more.  What does geocaching really reveal about our human nature?

This is my line of inquiry for everything that I come into contact with.  There is always a deeper, universal meaning behind anything we do.  I am fascinated by others' interests and passions, even when I have no personal interest in them myself (e.g. sports), not for what they are in and of themselves, but for what they reveal to me about how we are all alike.

Is the experience of oneness and unity in meditation a similar experience as the one I achieve in choral singing, or the one that someone achieves when they orchestrate a perfect goal in soccer?

These are the things that keep me up at night.  Writing about geocaching is only one way to explore this idea of universal themes.  I don't really know where this month-long caching challenge, or writing challenge, is going, but hopefully those of you along for the ride find something valuable in my musings.

The article discussed and quoted in this post is:  Farvardin & Forehand (2013).  Geocaching Motivations.  Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA.  Available at:

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