Exhibit-Based Public Participation in Social Psychology Research

Saturday, September 1, 2018 to Monday, August 31, 2020
Resource Type:
Project Descriptions
Environment Type: 
Public Programs, Citizen Science Programs, Exhibitions, Museum and Science Center Exhibits
General Public | Museum/ISE Professionals | Scientists | Evaluators | Learning Researchers
Social science and psychology

As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants. The Exploratorium in San Francisco, in collaboration with social science researchers at Arizona State University and Rutgers University, will conduct a two-year Pilots and Feasibility Studies project that will test a new model for integrating museum exhibits with public participation in scientific research, called Exhibit-Based PPSR (E-PPSR). The team will create a mini-exhibition about social psychology that (a) engages science museum visitors in investigating and reflecting on social factors that promote cooperation or not, (b) builds public awareness of the science of social psychology and (c) generates valid data for academic research in this area.

The Exploratorium will build on its long history of creating participatory exhibits that engage visiting groups in social science learning and in self-reflective metacognition. This expands beyond the typical lab-in-the-museum in which individual visitors interact with researchers' laptops or simple props. The model takes the exhibit experiences further, injecting the dimension of public participation in social psychology research. By voluntarily and anonymously contributing demographic and response data, large numbers of people from mixed-age groups will help social scientists gain new insights into cooperation among a broader sample of humanity than are usually studied in university labs. The E-PPSR lab is always available, rather than open only when a researcher is present. The model also incorporates research on learning and assesses the effect of E-PPSR on social science learning experiences. Do museum visitors build greater conceptual understanding of the social science by contributing to real research and seeing their own responses within the larger dataset? Do they attend more deeply to debriefing activities when they have contributed their own data? The three main deliverables include: 1) a prototype Exhibit-based PPSR laboratory at the Exploratorium comprised of one exhibit for gaining informed consent, three 'Data-Catcher' exhibits modified to record anonymous responses when visitors opt-in to contributing to social psychological research, and one debriefing exhibit. A back-end database will send data to the academic researchers; 2) evaluation studies that test the E-PPSR model. The studies will assess the success of debriefing approaches, the effectiveness of recruitment and the impact of E-PPSR on learning. The team will publish a journal article describing the E-PPSR model and academic research findings. The team will also organize a conference session with others in the museum field who manage in-house academic research laboratories; and 3) a report by the academic partners describing the impact of the project on their research program.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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Team Members

Josh GutwillPrincipal Investigator
Heike WinterheldHeike WinterheldCo-Principal Investigator

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