Participant Reactivity in Museum Research: The Effect of Cueing Visitors at an Interactive Exhibit
Although studies in a variety of settings suggest that participant reactions to the research context can threaten the validity and generalizability of study findings, there have been almost no investigations of participant reactivity in museums. In this experimental study, the authors compared the behaviors and learning outcomes of visitors at two versions of an interactive mathematics exhibit who had either been actively recruited by a data collector or passively recruited using posted signage. They assessed the amount of time visitors spent at the exhibit, the number of mathematical exhibit behaviors they engaged in, and the level at which they described the mathematical relationships in the exhibit after the interaction. The results indicate that actively recruiting visitors was associated with increased engagement times and the number of mathematical exhibit behaviors, and that recruitment method moderated the relation between exhibit version and learning outcomes. These findings emphasize the importance of carefully considering recruitment decisions in museum research and evaluation.