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: https://www.wpi.edu/Pubs/E-project/Available/E-project-053013-154501/