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Social Influences on the Visitor Museum Experience

Fall, 1993
Volume VIII
Number 3
Page 4
Social Influences on the Visitor Museum Experience
Stephen Bitgood
Jacksonville State University
Only recently have researchers begun to sys-
tematically study the impact of group influences
on museum experience. Prior to 1975, there was
little overt interest among researchers in attempt-
ing to measure the social processes involved in mu-
seum settings. However, by 1980 a number of re-
ports included data on group influence (e.g., Ben-
ton, 1979; Borun, 1977; Cone & Kendall, 1978;
Diamond, 1980; Lakota, 1975; Linn &Thier,
More recently, Falk and Dierking (1992) and
Dierking and Falk (in press) have summarized the
literature on group influence and attempted to give
proper emphasis to the social aspect of visitation.
Falk and Dierking (1992) devoted a chapter of their
(The Museum Experience)
to the social con-
text of the museum experience. In another publi-
cation, Dierking and Falk (in press) reviewed
studies dealing specifically with family behavior
and learning in museums. These attempts to sum-
marize the literature are important because they
emphasize the importance of these processes on
visitor behavior.
The purpose of this current short article is to
outline some of the variables (both group-related
and exhibit-related) that seem to play a role in
social learning in museums. There will be no effort
to repeat the efforts of Dierking and Falk; readers
are encouraged to seek out these references.
Group Variables
Group variables include those that originate
from the quality or number of people within the
group or from the combination of variables. Note
that the categories below are not always mutually
1. Gender of child. A
child's gender may play a role when
exhibits provide an opportunity for gender-typical behaviors
(e.g., Kremer & Mullins, 1992). For example, Kremer and
Mullins found that boys were more likely than girls to mimick
shooting actions and sounds at a water jet exhibit. Linn and
Thier (1975), on the other hand, reported that girls often
chose hands-on science activities requiring neatness.
Gender of adult.
Female adults were observed to take a
caretaking parent role while male adults were more likely to
act as leaders (Diamond, 1980; 1986; McManus, 1987).
When females were with other adults, they were more likely
to act in an exploratory manner. However, when female
adults were with children they were the least likely family
member to select an exhibit (Diamond, 1986).
3. Composition of group
(combination of age and gender).
Fathers were observed ignoring their daughters (Cone &
Kendall, 1978). Bitgood et al. (1993) found that the viewing
time of adults was correlated with who they were with -
other adults or children. This relationship was further com-
plicated by the fact that some exhibits are preferred by adults
and others by children.
child's presense would increase the
viewing time of adults at the child-preferred exhibit. In
another study, Wagner and Massey (1991) found that chil-
dren were more likely to role play at an exhibit when with
other children than when they were with adults.
Size of group.
Individuals may behave differently in small
groups than in large groups. For example, there maybe a ten-
dency to spend less time at exhibits (Bitgood, et al., 1993).
Ages of individuals.
Two types of age differences are
likely to be important: (a) child versus parent; and (b) devel-
opmental and physical stages of development. Clearly,
adult-child differences have been repeatedly noted. Adults
read more labels than children (Diamond, 1986); children
interact with animals and games more than adults (Rosenfeld
& Turkel, (1982); children are more likely to manipulate
exhibits than adults (Diamond, 1986; Koran, Koran, &
Longino, 1986);
Both individual and group agendas are likely to
have an impact on visitors. If the agenda of aparent is to teach
a child about science concepts and the child's agenda is
simply to have fun and purchase something from the gift
shop, a conflict is likely to occur.
Style of parenting.
Benton (1979) reported that the
leadership style of the family was related to the amount of
time on discipline versus the amount of exhibit-directed
Strategiesfor learning.
Families tend to cooperate in their
learning strategies(Bitgood,etal.,1993; Hilke,1988). Groups
composed of only adults, however, tend to adapt more
personal strategies for acquiring information —i.e., reading to
themselves (Bitgood, et
Fall, 1993
Volume VIII
Number 3
Page 5
Exhibit Characteristics
Studies demonstrate that the design features of
the exhibit play a critical role in understanding how
visitor groups behave.
Opportunities and type of participation.
Children are
more likely to touch and manipulate (Diamond, 1986; Koran,
et al, 1986).
Content/subject matter.
Bitgood et al. (1993) found that
visitor dyads behaved differently from one exhibit to the next.
Adults viewed text-heavy exhibits longer than children;
children spent longer than adults at an exhibit that allowed
playing musical instruments.
Relative amount of text and objects.
Bitgood et al. (1993)
found that, as expected, text-ladened exhibits were more
popular with adults than with children. Further, adults with
other adults spent longer at such exhibits than adults with
Configuration of elements.
The physical configuration of
exhibit can have
effect on group behavior in several
ways. An exhibit designed such that only one person can see/
interact limits social contact. An exhibit designed such that
individuals must be tall enough to see will filter out young
children and wheelchair users or result in parents lifting chil-
dren to get a better look.
Outcome Measures
In addition to the standard measures of visitor
studies (stopping, viewing time, etc.), outcome
measures in the area of social influence have at-
tempted to document the social nature of the visit.
Thus, there is
attempt to document verbal ex-
changes (e.g., asking for and giving information)
and nonverebal influences (who leads the group,
who pulls the group away from the exhibit). Per-
haps these social measures should become routine
data collection in all studies.
A better understanding of social processes in
museums is necessary in order to better design
informal educational experiences. Given the di-
versity of group patterns, the task of designing
informal learning within a social context is a chal-
lenging one.
Benton, D. P. (1979).
Intergenerational interaction in
New York: Columbia University Teachers
College. Ed.D. dissertation.
Bitgood, S., Kitazawa, C., Cavender, A. , & Nettles, K.
(1993). A study of social influence. Poster presented at
the 1993 Visitor Studies Conference, Albuquerque, NM.
Bonin, M. (1977).
Measuring the immeasurable: A pilot
study of museum effectiveness.
Philadelphia: Franklin
Cone, C., & Kendall,K. (1978). Space, time and family
interaction: Visitor behavior at the Science Museum of
21, 245-258.
Diamond, J. (1980).
The ethology of teaching: A perspective
from the observations of families in science centers.
Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.
Diamond, J. (1986). The behavior of family groups in
science museums.
29(2), 139-154.
Dierking, L., & Falk, J. (1993). Family behavior and learning
in informal science settings: A review of the research.
Science Education,
in press.
Falk, J., & Dierking, L. (1992).
The museum experience.
Washington, DC: Whalesback Books.
Hilke, D. D. (1988).
Strategies for family learning in
museums. In S. Bitgood, J. R. Roper, & A. Benefield
Visitor studies —
Theory, research, and
Jacksonville, AL: Center for Social Design.
Hilke, D. D., & Balling, J. D. (1985).
The family as a learning
system: An observational study of families in museums.
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
Koran, J., Koran, M., & Longino, S. (1986). The relationship
of age, sex attention, and holding power with two types
of science exhibits.
29(3), 227-244.
Kremer, K., & Mullins, G. (1992). Children's gender behav-
ior at science museum exhibits. Curator,
35(1), 39-48.
Linn, M., & Thier, H. (1975). The effect of experimental
science on development of logical thinking in children.
Journal of Research in Science Teaching,
Lakota, R. (1975).
The National Museum of Natural History
as a behavioral environment.
Smithsonian Institution,
Washington, DC.
McManus, P. (1987). It's the company you keep ... The social
determination of learning-related behavior in a science
International Journal of Museum Manage-
ment and Curatorship,
53, 32-50.
Rosenfeld, S., & Turkel, A. (1982). A naturalistic study of
visitors at
interactive mini-zoo.
Curator, 25(3),187-
Wagner, K., & Massey, C. (1991). The Treehouse visitor
research project. In S. Bitgood, A. Benefield, & D.
Patterson, Visitor studies: Theory, research, and prac-
tice, volume 3. Jacksonville, AL: Center for Social
Design. Pp. 270-277.
... Performans sanatlarında deneyim üzerine yapılan çalışmalarda (Hume ve Mort, 2008;Hume ve Mort, 2010;Hume vd., 2007;Radbourne vd., 2009) deneyimin yarattığı algılanan kalitenin memnuniyetle ilişkisinin güçlü olduğu sonucuna varılmıştır (Hume ve Mort, 2008). Müzelerde marka deneyimini temel alan çalışmalarda (Chang, 2006;Slater, 2007;Hume vd., 2007;Falk ve Dierking, 1992, Hood, 1983Harrison ve Shaw, 2004;Caldwell ve Coshall, 2002;Bekmeier-Feuerhahn vd., 2014;Baumgarth, 2009;Bitgood, 1993;Leighton ve Lehman, 2011;Forrest, 2003;Altunel ve Günlü, 2015;Aksatan ve Aykol, 2013;Dirsehan, 2012), marka çağrışımının müzeler için güçlü olmadığı sonucuna varılmış (Caldwell ve Coshall, 2002), müşteri deneyiminin yönetilmesinin memnuniyet ve deneyim sonrası boyutlara etki ettiği görülmüş (Dirsehan, 2012), çok boyutlu deneyimsel tasarımın, düşük ilgilenimli ziyaretçilerin farklılıkları algılanmasına ve sadakate yol açtığı bulgusuna varılmıştır (Bekmeier-Feuerhahn vd., 2014). Çevresel etkenlerin ve atmosferin müze deneyimi ile ilişkili olduğu (Forrest, 2003), benzersiz bir müze deneyiminin memnuniyet, yeniden ziyaret (Harrison ve Shaw, 2004) ve tavsiye etme (Altunel ve Günlü, 2015) üzerinde etkili olduğu saptanmıştır. ...
... The spatial context of the gallery experience is well acknowledged (Budge, 2018b;Scorch, 2013;Tröndle, 2014;Tröndle et al., 2014;Tzortzi, 2014). Various studies have shown the ways in which a visitor's experience of space may be affected in the gallery; for example, the presence of other visitors (Bitgood, 1993;vom Lehn et al., 2001). In this study, a connection between visitor Instagram practices and spatial theory was observed. ...
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Since 2010, Instagram has grown to become one of the world’s most popular social media applications. Its popularity has shaped and affected the practices of many industries and institutions. An institution notably influenced by the expansion of Instagram use is art galleries. For art galleries, it is an important device for community engagement, education, promotion, interaction, participation, and the enhancing of the visitor experience. For gallery visitors, Instagram offers a social photography tool that may align with their experience objectives. There is limited research about the use of Instagram by galleries. Knowledge of gallery visitor Instagram use and the role it plays in their experience is also limited. This research focuses on a study into the use of Instagram by visitors to the Gerhard Richter exhibition at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (14 October 2017 – 4 February 2018). To examine how visitors experienced art through the lens of Instagram, I drew upon interviews conducted with 17 visitors and four Gallery staff. In addition, ethnographic (visual)-grounded theory fieldwork was conducted during the exhibition. 550 exhibition images were observed through Instagram and analysed in a grounded theory framework, informing the research findings. In this thesis, I explain how and why Instagram is used by art galleries and their visitors. Also, the impact that Instagram practices has on visitors and the gallery is examined. This research project was informed by theories of aesthetic experience, sharing, and space. The research findings revealed that the use of Instagram at the gallery engaged visitors in a manner that transcended the physical space and extended/evolved their aesthetic experience. It highlighted contemporary ways to experience art using technology and new ways to think about art appreciation. Further, the research revealed how sharing, sociality, and the social pedagogy of the gallery are impacted by Instagram use. This is particularly evident in the ways galleries and their visitors used Instagram to promote, raise awareness, and influence others to the experience of art. Recommendations are offered on how the knowledge presented in this thesis may impact upon the future practices of art galleries. The findings are significant for visitors, art galleries, and arts educators seeking to critically understand Instagram use and the opportunities for engagement.
... They observed a repeatable pattern consisting of two phases: the initial period of viewing shorter than 10 s (when possibly the decision is being made about stopping for longer or progressing forward) and the period of diligent viewing, averaging to about 30 s per picture, but greatly varying across them. However, such manual recordings [just like other measures of engagement in timing and tracking studies: reading interpretive text (Bitgood and Patterson, 1993), or having a conversation about the exhibit (Bitgood, 1993)] are likely to be biased toward detecting an already diligent engagement. They might ignore (or not explicitly distinguish) the role of shorter, haphazard interactions with the artworks, for instance occurring when visitors only glimpse at a painting without clearly stopping in front of it. ...
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The spatial arrangement of artworks is recognized as one of the key elements of exhibition design. The underlying assumption is that the layout can strengthen the impact of individual exhibits, because the way visitors visually engage with artworks affects how they are cognitively processed. This paper explores the influence of the exhibits’ visual properties on the visitors’ attention and their memory of artworks. Attention was recorded with the use of mobile eye-tracking and memory was measured by an unanticipated recognition test immediately after the visit. The paper analyses both the total amount of attention spent on interacting with each artwork, as well as the strategy through which attention was allocated: through primarily longer (“diligent”) looks, versus primarily shorter (“distracted”) glimpses. Results of two experiments demonstrate that the visibility and co-visibility of artworks affected the amount of attention allocated to them, and the strategy of attention allocation. While the amount of attention contributed to improving the recognition memory of pictures, the strategy of attention allocation did not. These findings demonstrate the power of the exhibition’s visual properties to influence the experience of museum visitors but also highlight the visitors’ ability to employ alternative viewing strategies without diminishing the cognitive processing of artworks.
... Numerous observational studies report that families in museums behave in ways that indicate that they are learning, e.g., McManus, 1994;Bitgood, 1993. However, Borun et al. (1995 review the relevant literature and conclude that "to date, no one has shown a correlation between observable behavior in the free-choice museum environment and an independent measure of learning" (pg 264). ...
Rationale for family learning The Government’s Green Paper, The Learning Age (February, 1998) states that along with community and adult learning, family learning is “essential in the learning age”. In his influential book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman extols the importance of the family as a site for learning: “Family life is our first school for emotional learning; in this intimate cauldron we learn how to feel about ourselves and how others will react to our feelings … [It] operates not just through the things parents say and do directly with children, but also in the models they offer for handling their own feelings…”pp 189-90. From their youngest age a person is engaged in learning about their environment and other people in that environment, such as the parents in the domestic situation, will have a profound influence over not only the way the child develops but also over the shaping of their attitudes to the learning process (Innes, pp 4-5, 1999). Gorard et al. (1998) investigated learning trajectories over the life course and concluded that longterm
This paper uses the case of “talking events” – i.e., exhibition openings and talks by artists – to examine how cultural experiences are interactional accomplishments. Drawing on interviews and ethnographic fieldwork in Accra, Ghana, and Johannesburg, South Africa, the paper demonstrates the role of interaction and discourse in art galleries and museums in three ways: First, talking events encourage engagement with art spaces by promoting the practice of sociability, and temporarily subverting social and physical barriers to entry. Second, at talking events, the reactions of other viewers mediate individual evaluations of art, by drawing attention to aesthetic details, and by presenting alternative perspectives of the exhibited artworks. Thirdly, talking events reveal the backstory of the exhibition, which provides another layer of understanding, beyond the initial, intuitive experience. Notably, talking events render the symbolic boundary between lay viewers and art professionals more permeable, as lay viewers act as “inadvertent critics” who evaluate and interpret artworks together with cultural experts.
Dioramas in natural history museums have been captivating visitors for more than one hundred years. Until now, the literature has described the main dioramas as didactic or communication tools designed by curators for the benefit of the non-expert visitors’ learning experience. However, museum dioramas are more than just aesthetic or analogical representations of animals and habitats. Since they are based on empirical scientific knowledge about animal behavior and ecosystems, we consider dioramas as tridimensional models. In the natural sciences, scientists use models as means for thinking and for collectively developing new understandings about the world. Thus, learning about models and modeling is an important part of scientific literacy. In this chapter, we wish to discuss the educational role of dioramas as models. Museum dioramas are a product of the “museographic transposition” process, which results in simplified external representations of scientific models combined with the personal mental models of the museum designers or educators. As such, inspired by the work of Clement (Int J Sci Edu, 22(9): 1041–1053, 2000), we infer that dioramas have the potential to promote model-based learning by playing the role of target models that gradually bring the visitors’ mental models to become more and more complex in the direction of the scientists’ consensus models.
Informal science learning aims to improve public understanding of STEM. Free-choice learners can be engaged in a wide range of experiences, ranging from watching entertaining educational videos to actively participating in hands-on projects. Efforts in informal science learning are often gauged by their ability to elicit interaction, to foster learning, and to influence perceptions of STEM fields. This paper presents the installation of a biomimetic robotic fish controlled by an iDevice application at an informal science learning exhibit. Visitors to the exhibit are offered a unique experience that spans engineering and science, in which they can steer the robotic fish, choosing from three modes of control. Visitor engagement is examined through the lens of the Selinda model of visitor learning, while their behavior is examined using an adapted model of Borun's framework for behaviors indicative of learning. The evaluation of the efficacy of the exhibit is assessed through a post-experience survey questionnaire, an analysis of the application usage, and a behavior coding study. Data collected on visitor interactions with the exhibit indicate that free-choice learners value the importance of engineering research, and prefer interactive modes. Further, behavior coding results support the ability of the robotic fish platform to capture the visitors' attention. Findings offer compelling evidence that the exhibit is both highly engaging to visitors and a suitable format for science inquiry.
Working from the premise that dioramas are portals into ecosystems past and present, we examine the affordances of technology to help visitors step through these portals into a richer understanding of ecosystems. We first describe what we mean by a richer understanding of ecosystems. Using three examples we illustrate the basic affordances of dioramas for model-based learning and the use of technology to enhance visitor interactions with the ecosystems they represent. We conclude with a discussion of principled ways of using technology to facilitate model-based learning by deepening visitors' engagement with the diorama and extending the experience beyond the visit.
A growing body of educational research demonstrates the need to address diverse ways of knowing in teaching and learning environments in order to improve school achievement for groups of students who have historically been placed at risk. Central to this growing body of work has been evolving conceptions and methodologies for studying cultural processes in the learning environments in which children live. To test these ideas we have developed a research partnership among the American Indian Center of Chicago, Northwestern University, and the Menominee tribe of Wisconsin. Our chapter will review the methodological and conceptual issues associated with these ideas and the ways in which it specifically plays out when conducting research with Indigenous communities. We will explore the possibilities that new configurations and approaches to research can expand diversity and simultaneously deepen fundamental knowledge. The chapter will explore the collaboration issues we have struggled with in the design of research studies, implementation of studies, and data collection and analysis. We also analyze methodological challenges and advances our collaboration has posed to cognitive science research. Finally, our chapter will explore the benefits to community and university partners that often are unspoken in the research enterprise.
Smithsonian Institution Washington, D.C. I made a brief presentation at the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums two years ago called "Museums as Resources for Family Learning: Turning the question around". In that presentation, I challenged museum professionals to temporarily suspend their traditional focus on the learning resources which museums offer families (special programs, hands-on exhibitions, special labeling strategies, etc.) and to consider instead the resources that family visitors bring with them to the museum. One of the resources which I briefly alluded to was the family's experience as a learning system. These people have been in the business of learning together for many years. Dropped into the museum environment with new and different objects drawing their attention on all fronts, family members unconsciously draw on these learning resources to structure their free-ranging behavior. Their behavior, so deceptively chaotic on the surface, actually reflects a complex, well-balanced interweaving of personal and cooperative agendas to learn (Hilke, 1987). In this chapter, I want to give some depth to this statement by looking at some of the specific strategies family visitors use in exploring our exhibitions. The evidence we will examine was collected by following family groups through exhibition halls in a large natural history museum. Both traditional and hands-on halls were included. A specially devised code (see Table 1) was used to record who did what to whom about what during the observation period. Each family member was observed individually for approximately 8 minutes. In all, 132 family visitors were observed representing 53 family groups. (A more detailed summary of the methods and results from this research are available in Hilke and Balling, in preparation).
Typescript; issued also on microfilm. Report (Ed. D.)--Teachers College. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 70-73).
The Treehouse visitor research project
  • K Wagner
  • C Massey
Wagner, K., & Massey, C. (1991). The Treehouse visitor research project. In S. Bitgood, A. Benefield, & D. Patterson, Visitor studies: Theory, research, and practice, volume 3. Jacksonville, AL: Center for Social Design. Pp. 270-277.
Measuring the immeasurable: A pilot study of museum effectiveness
  • M Bonin
Bonin, M. (1977). Measuring the immeasurable: A pilot study of museum effectiveness. Philadelphia: Franklin Institution.