Could This New Research Change How We Experience Museums?

A black-and-white reproduction of “The Wounded Table” by Frida Kahlo on November 28, 2017. JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images

New research from a team of scientists and professors at NC State is illuminating how long museum-goers spend engaging with certain exhibitions, and how long they might spend looking at a certain piece of art. With the use of a machine-learning model, the researchers are predicting how long museum attendees will interact with any given exhibit, and then using the data they collect to suggest educational methodologies for museums looking to gain and retain new visitors. In order to use machine-learning technology to predict user interaction times, the researchers monitored 85 museum-goers checking out an exhibition on environmental science. Everything was measured: the visitors’ facial expression, posture and which buttons they pressed in interactive exhibition stations.

The data collected in this manner was then subsequently fed into five different machine-learning models, in order to determine which method of data modeling resulted in the most accurate predictions. The researchers found that the more data they’re able to collect, the better their prediction models will function; in other words, as they absorb more information, they’ll be able to better determine how to keep people interacting with museum exhibitions for longer periods of time. In general, thus far, the research has shown that user interactions with a single museum exhibit could last up to 12 minutes.

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“If we can determine how long people will spend at an exhibit, or when an exhibit begins to lose their attention, we can use that information to develop and implement adaptive exhibits that respond to user behavior in order to keep visitors engaged,” Andrew Emerson, the study’s first author and a Ph.D. student at NC State, said in a statement accompanying the research.

Previously-conducted research has found that people spend an average of 27.2 seconds looking at a work of art in a museum, meaning that museum visits could generally be categorized as activities where a great amount of material is absorbed in a short period of time, rather than outing where deep contemplation is achieved. With more research on how to engage people, these trends could change.