ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions Distinguished Visiting Speaker Award: Keynote Speaker at the Collaboratory ‘Methods and Theories of Emotions Research’

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Volker Kirchberg (Empfänger/-in)

Experiencing Exhibitions: ‘eMotions’ As an Interdisciplinary Study of Measuring and Analysing Visitor Experiences in Museums

In the interdisciplinary research project “eMotion – mapping museum experience” (since 2008), we assess the emotional and cognitive effects of artworks on museum visitors. We were able to observe these effects in the Swiss St. Gallen Art Museum exhibition “11:1 (+3) = Eleven Collections for a Museum”. Research questions we asked were, e.g., Does a famous or ‘loud’ art work attract more attention than a less renowned or ‘silent’ one? Do two similar artworks generate similar visitor reactions? Does an artwork lose its attraction if manipulated? Does an artwork gains attraction if accompanied by a text placard? What are the dimensions of experiences visitors have? To gain access to the complex decision-making process of visitor reception in the museum, we applied a multitude of different research methods: a complex visitor tracking, wireless physiological monitoring, information mapping and surveys techniques. Special technology was installed in the gallery space that allowed tracking of visitors' physical locomotion and continuous measurement of physiological markers. In surveys we also recorded visitors' subjective assessments of their museum experience in general and with respect to single artworks. In addition, research questions were operationalized by a series of experiments in the museum. We also developed new forms of displaying this information, for example information cartography, to reach a better understanding of art reception in a museum. Measurements were statistically analysed to investigate how the art exhibition and single artworks affect visitor behavior. The methodology and technical setup merged different data levels (movement tracking data, heart rate and skin conductance, sociological variables, emotional and aesthetic evaluations of specific artworks) into one integrated data set. The merging was achieved online with high spatial and temporal resolution, using data gloves and a wireless network. This data set was used to generate information cartographies of visitors, visualizing their spatial behavior and physiological responses in the environment. In a field study with 576 museum visitors, the methodology was successfully implemented. In the past, there were only a few empirically oriented studies concerning museum visitor experiences. Only a few scholars have tackled this research question in multifaceted empirical ways. By comparing theoretical and methodical issues, as well as important results, we are now able to outline several analytical building blocks that compose a complex framework of visitor expectations, experiences, emotions and outcomes. Gathering credible data on experiences of visitors in museums is an ongoing challenge for the empirically inclined science of museum studies. Social scientists have been asking for 20 years: What are the findings regarding factors, structures, and consequences of exhibition experiences? Where are the blind spots? Which questions should be researched? As a result, we are now able to interpret quantitative data about exhibition experiences, and connect them to a comprehensive qualitative phenomenological analysis of ‘psycho-geographical’ maps of visitors, i.e., the graphical transformation of their physiological reactions to the artworks and of their tracks through the exhibition.

Distinguished Visiting Speaker
Datum der Bewilligung08.03.2013