“The size of animals that you have in there … I was just flabbergasted. But they are all extremely well maintained. I can tell by looking that everything is thriving. It’s not just living” (120404-3) (Beaumont, 2005, p. 14).
“I think [the exhibition] is inspirational—that regular people can invent things. That is how I felt [when I read] about the lady [who invented] Kevlar [Stephanie Kwolek]” (National Museum of American History; female, age 42) (Korn, 2004, p. 44).
“It was fun. It was beautiful. The ice crystals, the colors in the ice crystals were beautiful. I think it is a great exhibit. It’s the only time I’ve seen that kind of exhibit—it’s sort of, each crystal is different, each time you do it will be different” (Tisdal, 2004, p. 29).
Allen (2002) notes that affective responses (defined as verbal expressions of feeling) were one of the three most common forms of “learning talk” in visitors’ conversations while viewing an exhibition on frogs. Visitors expressed their feelings at 57 percent of all exhibit elements at which they stopped. The most common subcategories were surprise/intrigue (37 percent) and pleasure (36 percent).
Some evidence from experimental social psychology and neuropsychology suggests a link between excitement and other forms of learning (e.g., Steidl, Mohi-uddin, and Anderson, 2006). Models of the relation of mood to substantive cognitive processing, as well as studies of operant conditioning, have predicted and demonstrated that mood states or internal responses influence the information used during processing in laboratory situations (Bower, 1981; Eich et al., 2000). The precise relationship is not yet well understood, and the influence of excitement can alternately enhance or detract from learning. Specific connections between affect, thinking, and activity settings, moreover, have not been studied and are clearly needed.
The construct of interest takes one deeper into the question of what people learn from experiences in informal environments. Hidi and Renninger (2006) distinguish between situational interest (short-lived, typically evoked by the environment) and individual interest (more stable and specific to an individual). Based on a number of studies, they propose a four-phase model of interest development: (1) triggered situational interest, typically sparked by such environmental features as incongruous/surprising information or personal relevance; (2) maintained situational interest, sustained through the meaningfulness of tasks and personal involvement; (3) emerging individual interest; and (4) well-developed individual interest, in which the individual chooses to engage in an extended pursuit using systematic approaches to questioning and seeking answers. Interestingly, this sequence of increasing