Topic: Life Sciences Subtopic: Other
of an Exhibition
Published on May 03, 2007, Modified on November 05, 2014
Collaborating Organization(s): American Psychological Association, Association of Science Technology Centers (ASTC), Ontario Science Centre, The Children's Museum, Boston, The Exploratorium
People who worked on this: Baiba Lennard, Caryl Marsh, Hooley McLaughlin, Jerry Kraus, John Voskuil, Wendy Pollock
My role: Chief Educator, then Project Director
Description and goals
By Gretchen Jennings
The Psychology Exhibition was created as the major public education initiative of the American Psychological Association (APA) in celebration of its centennial in 1992. The Ontario Science Centre in Toronto was selected by APA as its partner in the development, design, and fabrication of the exhibition and its traveling versions. Although the exhibitions development began over 20 years ago it is still cited as a model by the profession. It won an award for excellence in exhibitions from AAM in 1993. More recently, it was one of 12 exhibitions selected by peers in to be featured as a « noteworthy science exhibition » in “Are We There Yet ? Conversations about Best Practices in Science Exhibition Development,” edited by Kathleen McLean and Catherine McEver (2004). Not a year goes by that I am not contacted by someone for information about one of its components such as the Discovery Area or PlaySpace.
For all of these reasons, and because it was developed before exhibitions had their own websites, this case study may be a bit longer than many on Exhibit Files, serving as a kind of historical documentation. In fact, Exhibit Files is providing the Psychology Exhibition with its first-ever home on the web.
Content: To introduce a broad, general science museum audience to concepts, tools, methods, and results of 100 years of psychological research to demystify psychology.
Format: To devise a staffed, participatory, aesthetically pleasing, engaging, low-tech format that offers visitors diverse experiences and to test the feasibility of using the format in a traveling exhibition.
The exhibition was designed to engage a multigenerational audience, and evaluation results as well as reports from the various host sites indicate that this goal was met.
Development process and challenges
- Mindworks opened at OSC in 1991, and is still on display as of this writing in 2007.In 1992 a traveling version opened at the Smithsonian as Psychology: Understanding Ourselves, Understanding Each Other and began its 4 year national tour through ASTC. It is on display at the Arizona Science Center.
— A smaller traveling version, "Psychology, Its More than You Think! was widely traveled by ASTC and is now housed at the Archives of the History of American Psychology in Akron, OH.
The term psychology is often associated primarily with therapy and mental heath concerns. While this is an important aspect of the discipline, it is not the whole story. Psychology researchers use the scientific method to examine a broad range of human life and behavior.
Our sound-bite main idea came to be: Psychologists study the things that people do every day. People think, remember, forget, have feelings, communicate, cooperate, disagree, plan for the future, grow up, etc. These are the things that interest research psychologists. And we found, first through front end studies, and then as we prototyped various components, that people are interested in these everyday processes themselves.
We chose robust and reliable research on common human experiences. This meant that a component based on this research would by and large call forth a similar response from most visitors. Most of the exhibits followed this paradigm:
Activity: The visitor is asked to do an activity that calls forth a psychological effect. A good example is Personal Space, where two visitors are asked to step on carpet circles that are increasingly close to each other. In the closest space, unless the two visitors are closely related to one other, they tend to pull away from each other, feeling some infringement on their personal space.
Reflection: This is so automatic that people are hardly aware of why they have done it. But the experience is very powerful. The label copy asks what is happening, and why. Often visitors laugh uncomfortably. Some walk away at this point.
Reading: Many visitors are motivated by this experience to read. Brief label text helps the visitor understand the phenomenon of personal space, and why psychologists are interested in it.
Lessons learned, mistakes we made (and what we did about them)
After the first version of the exhibition opened at OSC in March 1991 we spent many hours observing and talking with visitors. Based on what we learned we rewrote and simplified text and made several components more visitor-friendly. We were able to do this because OSC was fabricating a traveling version of the exhibition, and the changes were incorporated into this second iteration. OSC and APA did a great deal of prototyping during exhibition development; the components needing revision were by and large the ones we had not had time to test. This reinforces the value of any prototyping that can be done before an exhibition opens to the public. We were lucky that we had a second chance with the traveling exhibition.
Once the traveling version opened at the Smithsonian in May 1992 we realized that the exhibition was not as accessible as it could be since our videos were not captioned. With funding from APA and ASTC we retro-fitted all videos with open captioning, an expensive and time consuming process. It is definitely easier and cheaper to do captioning as you are developing video!
A staffed exhibition
An important format goal of this project was to create a staffed exhibition that would also travel. The two enclosed spaces, PlaySpace and The Discovery/Browsing Area, required staffing in order to be open to the public. Museums that booked the exhibition had to agree contractually to this minimum level of staffing. APA provided a wide range of support for this staffing requirement by bringing the PlaySpace manager at each site to train at The Childrens Museum, and by sending staff to each site to train gallery staff and volunteers. We learned that providing this kind of staffed support is expensive, but it did provide rich and substantive experiences for visitors. The issue is how to balance the costs with the compellingly positive results.
Exhibition Opened: March 1991
Exhibition Still Open!
Traveling Exhibition: Yes
Location: Phoenix, AZ, United States
Estimated Cost: Over $3,000,000 (US)
NSF Funding: Yes, Grant No. ESI # 8550582
Other funding source(s): W.T. Grant Foundation; Sloan Foundation
APAPlaySpaceDescr.pdf (PDF, 4.7 MB)
Description of PlaySpace, its development and staffing needs, provided by the Traveling Psychology Exhibition office at APA (American Psychological Association) to each museum that hosted the exhibition.
H2HSpr95PlaySpace.FIN2.pdf (PDF, 735.2 KB)
An article about PlaySpace published in the Spring 1995 issue of Hand to Hand, the publication of the Association of Children's Museums.
BrokenSquares.jpg (JPG, 1.1 MB)
Article by G. Jennings describing development of Broken Squares Discovery Box activity.
ChimpResearch.jpg (JPG, 1.1 MB)
Article by G. Jennings describing development of exhibit component on chimpanzee research
Milgram.jpg (JPG, 1.2 MB)
Article by G.Jennings describing the development of exhibit component on Milgram obedience experiments
DiscoveryBoxes.jpg (JPG, 1.1 MB)
Article by G. Jennings describing the development of the Discovery Area and the Discovery Boxes for The Psychology Exhibition
TPEevalsummary.jpg (JPG, 656.5 KB)
Summary of tracking and timing studies done at 3 sites on the tour.