bring to the museum was the best single predictor of how long they spend and what they learned from an exhibit: the more people already knew, the longer they stayed and the more they tend to talk about and learn from the curatorial themes. These findings, however, conflict with the results of a study by Falk and Storksdieck (2005). They found that while prior knowledge was the most potent predictor of learning in museums, in this case, the more a visitor knew about life science when entering the exhibition, the less they gained, suggesting a ceiling effect or a limitation in the type of gains that could be measured (rather than a disavowal of the importance of prior knowledge). It seems possible that the role prior knowledge plays could depend on many factors, including the domain in question, exact nature of the museum offerings, particular visitors studied, and assessment methods. Clearly, more research is needed to determine how to interpret these findings.

Personal Commitment to Action

Another aspect of personal identity in relation to science is the gradual understanding of the implications of one’s own actions on the world and the potential to change those actions in light of scientific evidence.

Many exhibitions and programs at aquariums and zoos focus on this aspect in particular, emphasizing conservation and stewardship, and some have seen results. For example, Falk et al. (2007) studied visitors to two museums and two zoos. They concluded that such visits prompted 54 percent of individuals to reconsider their role in conservation action and to see themselves as part of the solution to environmental problems. Other studies have shown less success in promoting this aspect of identity. For example, Dierking et al. (2004) found that visitors to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Conservation Station showed significant short-term increase in their level of planned action, but follow-up phone calls two months later revealed that they had not initiated the intended activities.

Schneider and Cheslock (2003) reviewed studies from a number of fields related to behavior change, including visitor studies and environmental education. They concluded that the most successful programs were those that targeted actions, tailored interventions to the particular audience, built self-efficacy, and used prompts or tools to trigger action. Hayward (1998, in an aquarium exhibition study reported by Yalowitz, 2004) showed the importance of suggesting specific behaviors visitors can engage in to ameliorate environmental problems; without these, visitors left more disillusioned and less empowered than a control group.

One embodiment of this principle is Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, a program that has been operating for over a decade on a national scale. Seafood Watch offers visitors wallet-sized cards containing information about the environmental impact of various fishing practices and makes recommendations about which types of seafood to avoid purchasing. Findings



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