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The Power of Expectation



Abstract   In 1999, the first author and his colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution published an article in Curator: The Museum Journal introducing research on the experiences visitors find satisfying in museums. Subsequent data collection has expanded on these findings, as this Research Note will elucidate. In general, the team found that experiences that visitors were looking forward to on entrance tended to have a distribution similar to that of the experiences they found satisfying on exit. The aim of this note is to present data that demonstrates this consistency, and to observe that visitors’ expectations that they would have certain types of experiences upon entering a museum or exhibition were a much larger factor in determining their responses than were minor differences in museum or exhibition content or presentation. In other words, on the whole they came in knowing what experiences they expected, and they left having found them, regardless of what museum personnel presented to them inside.