P a g e | 272 Chapter 40: IMMERSION EXPERIENCES IN MUSEUMS Immersion experiences can be found in many places. Ride simulators in shopping malls or a variety of thrill rides in theme parks often provide feelings of immersion. Movie theaters create immersion with 3-D technology or the surround screens of Omnimax theaters. Habitat exhibits in zoos & aquariums often create a realistic feeling of time and place. Dioramas in natural history museums have provided realistic-looking habitats for creatures of all kind and enhance a feeling of immersion. Living history museums replicate experiences of a time and place in past history and often capture an experience of bygone days for visitors. The number and popularity of such immersion experiences suggest there is something of value in them to those who seek them out. Despite all the attention to immersive experiences, we know relatively little about this psychological phenomenon. Few researchers have studied the immersive experience and the setting conditions associated with it. This section of the book explores immersion experiences in exhibit design. The current chapter is an introduction to the topic of immersion. Chapter 41, “The Role of Simulated Immersion in Exhibitions,” discussed a number of issues related to immersion experiences. Chapter 42, “Toward an Objective Description of the Visitor Immersion Experience,” provides some data on the characteristics of immersive exhibits. Chapter 43 (“Memory of Objects, Labels, and Other Sensory Impressions from a Museum Visit”) addresses additional empirical questions related to immersion; in this case, it examines three types of knowledge recall (objects, label information, and sensory experiences). Finally, Chapter 44 (“Dioramas in Exhibition Centers”) provides a discussion of dioramas, one of the most common types of immersion exhibits. WHAT ARE THE VARIETIES OF IMMERSIVE ENVIRONMENTS? Although we will focus on simulated immersion experiences in museum environments, it may be instructive to review the varieties of immersion experiences in everyday life. The following types of experiences are by no means exhaustive. They are among the most common of these experiences. Museum Dioramas The diorama has been used in museums for more than 200 years. It is still one of the most popular types of simulated immersion in museums. Animal habitats, limestone caves, period rooms in art museums, all fit into the diorama framework. Chapter 43 provides a more detailed description and discussion on this type of immersive media. P a g e | 273 Landscape immersion in zoos and aquariums Coe (1985), one of the leading advocates of naturalistic zoo exhibits, has termed this type of design, “landscape immersion.” In his 1986 paper, Coe traced the history of exhibit design in zoos, aquariums, and natural history museums in this paper. He suggests the following historical periods. Royal collections. Early wild animal collections were owned by royalty. "The animals were caged in the last word of Baroque symmetry." In addition, curiosity collections by royalty may have been the first natural history museums. Public collections. As with royal collections, the organizing concept for public collections was "based on whimsy and entertainment." Travelling bear shows and "curiosities of every description" were the focus. Taxonomic organization. "The rush was on to see who could identify and name the most species or collect the oddest or rarest or most dramatic specimens..." This trend began in the middle of the 18th Century. Habitat exhibits . In museums, Bullock in 1809 is credited with the first habitat exhibits and dioramas. The British Museum and the American Museum of Natural History were leaders in this movement. In zoos, Hagenbeck's moated exhibits in a park near Hamburg, Germany, became the model imitated by zoos everywhere. Modernism . "The movement towards modernism in art and architecture has had a profound effect on exhibit design." This approach is characterized by simplification, abstraction, and universal abstraction. "The love affair with machinery in the 1930's and 40's resulted in thinking of buildings as functional architectural machines." Modernism approach assumed that all problems could be solved by technology. "The tile-lined room with a glass front and stainless steel furnishings became the norm for most larger zoo animals." Landscape immersion. Woodland Park Zoo and the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum were leaders in landscape immersion. The attempt of this view is to duplicate as accurately as possible, the animals' surroundings. The buildings. Although Hagenbeck's work influences this view, the attempt of landscape immersion is to allow the visitor to "become physically and psychologically immersed in the recreated habitat of the animal." High-tech exhibits. Science museums, zoos, natural history museums and aquariums are all using high tech exhibits today. This approach "usually surrounds the visitor with a 'high tech environment' as well as a collection of technological hardware." Examples include touch screen computers, laser disk video systems, holograms, and robotics. I would think it also includes virtual reality technology. P a g e | 274 I have some difficulty with Coe’s scheme. Are the last two periods (landscape immersion and high-tech exhibits) really distinct? It seems to me that high-tech has been incorporated into immersion exhibits in a number of ways. It’s also difficult to combine exhibit design practices in zoos and natural history museums since habitat dioramas were being used in natural history museums at the same time modern, minimalistic architectural design in zoos. Virtual Reality Virtual reality includes being immersed in a simulated environment and being able to control movements and other responses within this environment. Harvey, Birjulin, & Loomis (1994) noted the connection between immersion and virtual reality. Parke (2010) and his colleagues report a project at Texas A&M College of Architecture that is exploring modular “spatially immersive visualization” using the Wii controller. Living History Some living history museums attempt to create an immersive experience by reproducing not only the physical environment, but the social environment as well. Staff may be dressed in period clothing and be engaged in activities of the time period. Plimoth Plantation and Colonial Williamsburg are examples of this attempt to bring history to life. Plimoth Plantation attempts to keep the role-playing staff completely in historical context; they fail to acknowledge events that have occurred after the historical time of the village. Theme Park Rides Traditionally, the difference between theme parks and exhibition centers such as museums and zoos has been the major mission: theme parks mission is to make a profit, while museums and zoos mission is, above all, educational. However, there is sometimes no clear distinction between theme park experiences and museum experiences. For example, Disney’s Animal Kingdom explicitly stated that education was its principle goal and casual observation suggests that Animal Kingdom delivers its educational mission effectively. Most museum people would now argue that education and entertainment can be combined (“edu-tainment”) for the benefit of both. Some theme park rides attempt to create a feeling of time and place, others may create an immersion experience by the power of autonomic nervous system stimulation. Thrill rides over stimulate the sympathetic nervous system creating a strong emotional experience. Solomon’s opponent-process theory may explain why this type of immersion is so popular. Theater Experiences (e.g., 3-D movies and Omnimax) The technology of 3-D movies seems to have an immersive impact on viewers. It is common for viewers to reach out to try to touch objects that explode out from the movie screen. P a g e | 275 Omnimax movie screens provide another application of surrounding the viewer with the movie. A somewhat older technology, planetarium theaters, can provide a similar experience. WHY DO MUSEUMS INCLUDE IMMERSIVE EXHIBITS? Dioramas are the most common type of immersion exhibit. We might be perplexed why immersion exhibits such as dioramas are so popular given their cost and visitor survey responses. In a survey comparing natural history museums with science centers, Korn (1996) found that dioramas were rated lower than “live demonstrations,” “things to hand/touch/manipulate,” and “objects or artifacts.” Given the audience popularity of immersion exhibits such as dioramas, Korn’s results are puzzling. The dioramas contained in the museums from Korn’s study could have been of poor quality. Perhaps visitors were telling us that they want variety in their museum experiences ; too much of one type of exhibit media is not desirable. Another possible reason why dioramas were poorly rated in Korn’s study may be the ambiguity of terms such as “immersion” and “diorama.” To illustrate differences in definition, consider an article by Gilbert (2000). She defined immersion as: “a multi-sensory experience which allows visitors to walk into the ‘scene’ (unlike a glass-fronted diorama). Such exhibits pull visitors out of the passive, one-dimensional museum viewing ritual and transport them to a different time, place or situation where they become active participants in what they encounter.” I’m not sure what a “one-dimensional” museum might be, but I am concerned with her limited definition of immersion. Gilbert requires “visitors to walk into the scene” to qualify as an immersion experience; this specifically eliminates the possibility that a glass-fronted diorama counts as an immersion experience. Gilbert’s definition is based on the physical qualities of the exhibit. This approach has some conceptual difficulties since an exhibit may be designed to be immersive, but is not experienced that way or alternatively, an exhibit that is not designed to fit Gilbert’s definition may create a feeling of immersion. My definition of immersive exhibits includes dioramas whether or not they are fronted by glass (Bitgood, 1990a). Simulated immersion was defined as “the degree to which an exhibit effectively involves, absorbs, engrosses, or creates for visitors the experience of a particular time and place.” This approach recognizes that different setting characteristics may produce different levels of feeling immersed and it is focused on both the designer intention and the impact of exhibit design on people rather than defining exclusively on the physical qualities of the exhibit. With a mail-back survey to ASTC members, Gilbert (2002) also attempted to assess the reasons why museums might include immersive exhibits in museums. Her findings suggest three major reasons: (1) to compete with other institutions as a leisure-time activity; (2) to P a g e | 276 capture attention and provide a memorable experience; and (3) to communicate exhibit content effectively. It would be interesting to obtain data to assess how effective immersion exhibits meet these three criteria. THE IMMERSION EXPERIENCE There are a number of psychological experiences that are difficult to define. The feeling of immersion seems to be one of these. It often refers to feelings of being in a time and place such as a historical period (living history museums), or a animal habitat (zoos, aquariums, natural history museums), or a geological formation (a limestone cave or a coal mine in a museum), or a space flight (science center). To a larger or smaller degree, these experiences have an affective impact. The experiences also have some conceptual and physical meaning -- they might communicate what it feels like to explore a limestone cave, or to experience take off in a rocket shuttle. The focus, of course, is on the experience rather than on formal learning. However, it is hoped that the immersion environment enhances the vividness and meaningfulness of “book learning” associated with the experience. There are a number of psychological phenomena that may be relevant to the immersion experience. For example, mental imagery techniques, used in relaxation and meditation, may also be useful in museum experiences. Ask the visitor to imagine themselves in a time and place. Doug Worts (1990) reported doing this at the Art Gallery of Ontario and we have reported exhibit labels that attempt to do this in Attack & Defense at the Anniston Museum of Natural History. Solomon’s (1980) opponent-process theory is helpful in understanding why experiences that create an adrenalin rush is often sought out. Highly emotional reactions such as fear are often followed by an opponent process, a state of euphoria. Bungy jumping and parachuting are experiences that often create this type of opponent process. The concepts of peak experience and flow from humanistic writers (e.g., Maslow, 1965; Csikzentmihalyi, 1990 ) are also be relevant in the immersion experience. Capturing the immersion experience in a more objective way is a challenge. In one of our studies (Bitgood, et al, 1990b), we used the statistical method of factor analysis in an attempt to examine major elements of immersive experiences. After a visit to the Anniston Museum of Natural History, visitors rated their experiences on bipolar scales for each of the exhibit areas, many of which contained dioramas. We found the following factors: 1. Feeling of time and place (looks real, etc.). The degree to which visitors had the feeling they were the time and place created by the exhibit. P a g e | 277 2. Sensory involvement. Multiple sensory experiences (sight, sound, tactile, smell) appear to enhance the feeling of immersion. 3. Meaningfulness (subject comes to life). Because immersive experiences appeal to more than abstract language, the experience seems more “real” or meaningful. 4. Inhibiting factors. Stimuli that do not “fit” into the experience may inhibit the feeling of immersion. When viewing an exhibit of an African savannah with lions, antelope, and other animals, a high rise building in the distance is likely to interfere with feelings of immersion. However, the presence of text labels, need not be inhibiting as indicated by a Larsen’s (2002) study. Larsen’s (2002) article addressed the question of how text labels influence the immersion experience. The Ice Age exhibition contained a trail designed to bring the ice age to life. Visitors found themselves surrounded by a spring woodland scene from Cincinnati’s last Ice Age (20,000 years ago). The experience included animals, weather sounds, changing lighting effects and scents of a pine forest. For the first eight years after opening, there were no text labels in the exhibit since it was assumed that the preceding exhibits provided a pre-organizer for the immersion experience. Many at the Museum believed that text labels would detract from the immersion experience. Two text labels were mocked up and tested. Larsen states: “Reactions to labels were overwhelmingly positive. All of the 72 visitors interviewed preferred the labels for a variety of reasons.” (p. 15) WHAT FACTORS CONTRIBUTE TO THE IMMERSION EXPERIENCE? Much research is needed to study the relative influence of various design elements that contribute to immersion. There is some evidence that the following factors are important, although we cannot make claims about the relative impact of each. Realism of the illusion: how closely does the exhibit create the illusion of time and place? Dimensionality: perceived degree of depth. Three-dimensions create more feelings of immersion than two. Dioramas are more immersive than a photograph; 3-D movies and surround movie screens are also likely to create a more immersive experience. Multi-sensory stimulation: the presence of realistic sounds, feeling of coolness in a cave or hotness in a desert are all likely to contribute to feeling immersed. Meaningfulness: degree to which the subject matter comes to life. It must provide a topic of interest and allow a quick understanding of what it’s all about. P a g e | 278 Mental imagery: degree to which visitor uses imagination to put himself/herself in the time and place. Lack of interfering factors: sights and sounds that are incompatible with the illusion may interfere with the immersive experience. Attempts to recreate an immersive experience are not always successful. Jones and Wageman (2000) assessed four immersion exhibits at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose. Two of the exhibits were successful in creating feelings of immersion (Cleanroom and Med Tech), but two were not (Electronic Café and Planetary Base). The authors attribute the failure to a lack of a realistic illusion from the visitor viewpoint. Abstract representations of umbrellas in the Café were not recognized as umbrellas. MEASURING THE IMMERSION EXPERIENCE We can illustrate our point by reviewing two studies (Peart, 1984; Peart & Kool, 1988) that assessed knowledge gain in addition to other measures of exhibit effectiveness. These studies are similar to many others that use tests of semantic knowledge as a measure of exhibit effectiveness. The main argument in the current article is that, by using incomplete measures of knowledge, researchers restrict themselves to semantic knowledge and fail to assess other types of memory (e.g., visual and episodic). In a systematic comparison of conditions, Peart (1984) gave recall tests to groups exposed to different combinations of exhibit elements: (1) label only; (2) picture with label; (3) object only; (4) object with label; and (5) object, label, and sound. His measures included: attracting power, holding power, knowledge gain, and attitude change. One of the obvious results was that only when the label was present did participants show knowledge gains compared to the control condition. The recall performance of the object-only condition was similar to the control subjects who were not exposed to any exhibit. While this study shows that semantic knowledge gains require text, they fail to indicate that concrete visual experiences may also have resulted in learning. Had Peart used a visual test (e.g., recognition of a photo of the object), it is certain that visitors would have shown that they acquired visual knowledge. The point is that by restricting measures exclusively to semantic knowledge, there is danger of concluding that very little knowledge acquisition occurs, although the range of possible knowledge outcomes are not being assessed. In another report, Peart and Kool (1988) described an evaluation of an exhibition called Living Land/Living Sea at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, British Columbia. The exhibition includes open dioramas of forest and seashore settings, closed dioramas of Ice Age mammals and river delta habitats, and small didactic (primarily text) exhibits. Researchers measured attracting power, holding power, knowledge gain, and attitude change in a control group of 56 visitors before they entered the exhibition and an experimental group of 56 visitors as they exited the exhibition. P a g e | 279 As part of their analysis, they divided the 46 exhibits in the Living Land/Living Sea gallery into "concrete" and "abstract" exhibits. The 17 concrete exhibits were three-dimensional and contained objects and dioramas; and the 29 abstract exhibits were two-dimensional text panels. A Concrete Index was formulated based on size of the exhibit, whether the exhibit was open (without glass), or closed and the presence-absence of graphics, sound, motion, small specimens or models. The assumption was that larger exhibits are "more concrete (or real) than small ones, that open dioramas are more concrete than ones with glass in front of them, and that the stimulation of other senses such as smell and sound will increase the concreteness of an exhibit." (Peart & Kool, 1988; p. 119). In terms of behavioral outcomes (attracting and holding power), the concrete exhibits were more successful. Even when size was removed from the correlation, the concrete exhibits (e.g., dioramas) were still highly related to attracting and holding power. Knowledge gain measures, on the other hand, showed a different pattern. There was an inverse correlation between knowledge gain and exhibit type (although this trend was not statistically significant). The higher the Concrete Index, the less knowledge gain. There was no significant difference in attitude change between concrete and abstract exhibits. The authors conclude that: "Those exhibits judged to be the most successful in behavioral terms, i.e., the larger concrete exhibits, were not the most successful in educational terms. The negative relationship between knowledge gain and minimum viewing time, and the implied negative relationship between knowledge gain and Concrete Index scores, leads us to conclude that dioramas are not the best vehicle for communicating ideas. This finding reinforces the concept that large diorama- type exhibits be used to `wow' visitors, but if we want to teach them anything, we should probably go for the small exhibit whose message can be gleaned in a relatively short time." (Peart & Kool, 1988; p. 127). The implication that dioramas `wow' but do not teach is unwaranted given the measures used. Since dioramas involve primarily visual experiences, a visual test of knowledgewould have been more appropriate to assess impact than a test of semantic knowledge. The visual test might include: having the respondent choose an illustration from among several others that shows Ice Age species or asking the respondent to identify which photo shows a river delta habitat. While concrete, visual experiences may not be the best vehicle for communicating semantic knowledge, their role for comunicating other kinds of knowledge (e.g., visual and other sensory impressions) should not be ignored. Bitgood and Cleghorn (1994) provide one alternative for studying some of these other types of knowledge. CONCLUSIONS The following chapters (41 through 44) explore immersion and immersive environments. Because of the investment of resources required for immersive exhibits, considerable thought P a g e | 280 needs to go into planning. Additional research is needed to answer specific questions about how to design effective immersive experiences. References/Bibliography Alt, M., & Shaw, K. (1984). Characteristics of the ideal museum exhibits. 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