For most people, lifting weights and museums exist in parallel realities, but not for this team of Japanese researchers. That's fortunate, because by combining the two, the researchers discovered that giving people something to heft made a much stronger impression (Too much?).
The experiment was performed at the Kyushu University Museum, at an exhibit of skeletal preparations of animals—a babirusa pig, an Indian elephant , a short-finned pilot whale, and a water buffalo. The researchers prepared “weight stimuli” for the skeletons, so people could experience what it's like to lift the equivalent weight of the skeletons. Obviously we'd all prefer to lift an actual short-finned pilot whale over our heads, but alas, that's also obviously a recipe for disaster. As a control, five other skeletons were set up without weight boxes. Then they sent in the college students.
As anyone who has ever visited a museum would tell you, when there's something to do, you take notice. The results, uncovered via post-visit questionnaires, found that not only did people like those displays more, they remembered them better and learned more from them, and said they were more willing to pay for museums as a result. Overall, lifting the weights gave people better impression of their experience. Far from turning museums into the next bro-cal, results were true across gender lines.
Image: Jirka Matousek/Flickr
“We just found that the weight cue significantly prolonged the viewing duration and a model with the viewing duration as a causal factor could explain the results,” the paper states. So if you're spending more time touching materials, you're spending more time learning from them. “That is, the lifting action prolongs the viewing duration, and then the viewing duration changes participants' impression of exhibits and museum.”
Obviously, lifting stuff isn't going to be the key for every museum. “For example, one could hypothesize that weight information does not contribute to the appreciation of pictorial art exhibit items because the esthetic value of such paintings is obviously unrelated to their physical weight.” I, personally, have long harbored the dream of slapping a marble statue on the ass—just picture the sound—so that's something for art museums to think about.
Other studies have examined the link between physicality and memory. One study found they could teach preschoolers how to do abstract math by using gestures, so there may be more to the learning enhancement than simply spending more time at the exhibit; more research will have to be done.
But as museums are working on modernizing and redefining themselves, apparently they should be looking for exhibits where people can do some bicep curls. I can't wait to find out how much Michelangelo's David weighs.