Conflicting Information in Museums: An Exploratory Study

By Inga Specht, Siëlle Phelan and Doris Lewalter.

Published by The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

When presenting current science and ongoing research, most science museums (and their visitors) find themselves faced with the challenge of having to deal with conflicting information. The aim of our research was to examine how visitors perceive and process conflicting scientific information, if visitors recall the information several months after their visit, and if dealing with this topic triggered further engagement with the conflicting issue. In two science museums (the Deutsches Museum in Munich and Technoseum in Mannheim), texts with two opposing positions on the same scientific topic were displayed. Visitors who read both positions were approached and asked to take part in a semi-structured interview which included questions on the visitors’ perception of the two positions, how they assessed the credibility of each position, and the relationship between them (146 visitors). Interviews were transcribed verbatim. This formed the basis of a deductive and inductive developed category system, which led to a scale of four hierarchical conflict processing levels. A questionnaire filled in immediately after the interview included questions on further engagement, personal relevance of the topic, and socio-demographics. After several months, a follow-up survey (42 visitors; questionnaire) with regard to memory and further engagement was conducted. Data from the follow-up study were linked to the interview and survey data collected in the museum. Findings suggest that, when confronting visitors with conflicting science topics, more than 90% of the visitors perceive the conflict and more than 70% reached the two highest processing levels of our category system. Additionally, results show that several of them recalled the information and stated that they engaged with the topic after their visit (approx. 86% and 43% of follow-up participants’ responses). Results and limitations of the study as well as some thoughts on conflicting information in the “inclusive museum” will be discussed.

Keywords: Museums, Knowledge, Conflicting Information, Memory, Further Engagement

The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, Volume 8, Issue 2, June 2015, pp.1-14. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 565.024KB).

Dr. Inga Specht

Academic Assistant, The German Institute for Adult Education, Leibniz Centre for Lifelong Learning, Bonn, Germany

Siëlle Phelan

Art High School Education, TUM School of Education, Munich, Germany

Doris Lewalter

Art High School Education, TUM School of Education, Munich, Germany


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