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How the Visitors’ Cognitive Engagement Is Driven (but Not Dictated) by the Visibility and Co-visibility of Art Exhibits

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Article number350
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>3/03/2020
<mark>Journal</mark>Frontiers in Psychology
Number of pages14
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The spatial arrangement of artworks is recognized as one of the key elements of exhibition design. The underlying assumption is that the layout can strengthen the impact of individual exhibits, because the way visitors visually engage with artworks affects how they are cognitively processed. This paper explores the influence of the exhibits' visual properties on the visitors' attention and their memory of artworks. Attention was recorded with the use of mobile eye-tracking and memory was measured by an unanticipated recognition test immediately after the visit. The paper analyses both the total amount of attention spent on interacting with each artwork, as well as the strategy through which attention was allocated: through primarily longer ("diligent") looks, versus primarily shorter ("distracted") glimpses. Results of two experiments demonstrate that the visibility and co-visibility of artworks affected the amount of attention allocated to them, and the strategy of attention allocation. While the amount of attention contributed to improving the recognition memory of pictures, the strategy of attention allocation did not. These findings demonstrate the power of the exhibition's visual properties to influence the experience of museum visitors but also highlight the visitors' ability to employ alternative viewing strategies without diminishing the cognitive processing of artworks.

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