Museum fatigue is a state of physical or mental fatigue caused by the experience of exhibits in museums and similar cultural institutions. The collection of phenomena that characterize museum fatigue was first described in 1916, and has since received widespread attention in popular and scientific contexts.
The first person to describe museum fatigue was Benjamin Ives Gilman in the January 1916 edition of The Scientific Monthly. Gilman mainly focused on the efforts of museum fatigue on how the viewing displays are placed. Gilman went on to say that the way the displays were presented caused museum fatigue. In other later studies, Edward Robinson in 1928 talked more about museum fatigue, specifically four museums that showed a lot of characteristics of museum fatigue because of how the displays were placed. Arthur Melton provided more proof for Robinson by observing visitors decrease interest in the displays as the more displays were placed.
In a more recent study of museum fatigue, Falk, Koran, Direking, and Dreblow studied museum fatigue in Florida Museum of Natural History in 1985. While observing visitors they noticed a pattern of high interest in anything in the museum for about 30 minutes and then after the 30 minutes they noticed a decrease in interest. In 1997–1998, Beverly Serrell in her research determined that in less than 20 minutes people became apathetic towards the museum. Museum fatigue has also been applied in zoos to see if they had the same effect. In one study in 1986, Bitgood, Patterson, and Benefeld observed the reptile house of the Birmingham Zoo. While observing they noticed that the pattern was different from museum fatigue.
In a 2009 issue of Visitor Studies, Bitgood wrote that possible explanatory concepts for museum fatigue include exhaustion, satiation ("a decrease in attention [usually viewing time or percentage of stops to view] after repeated exposure to, or consumption of, homogenous stimulation [e.g., a series of similar artworks, reptiles, or sea shells]", stress, information overload, object competition ("a decrease in attention resulting from the simultaneous presentation of multiple stimuli"), limited attention capacity ("a reserve of attention or fixed amount of cognitive resource available, much like a gasoline tank"), and the decision-making process.
One way that museums try to combat museum fatigue is by providing adequate seating in the galleries. According to the American Alliance of Museums blog, "Back in 1975, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts started an initiative called 'Please Be Seated,' where the institution commissioned contemporary furniture makers to design gallery seating. The benches were simultaneously works of art and utilitarian objects. Make benches part of the programmatic requirements for new exhibitions, in all types of museums. Design them into the exhibition floor plan, and commit to keeping them there, even when the desire to add more artifacts or content puts them on the chopping block."
- Gilman, Benjamin Ives (1916). "Museum Fatigue". The Scientific Monthly. 2 (1): 62–74. JSTOR 6127.
- Bitgood, Stephen (2009). "Museum Fatigue: A Critical Review". Visitor Studies. 12 (2): 93–111. doi:10.1080/10645570903203406. S2CID 144469592.
- Adams, Stephen (2009). "Ashmolean Museum redesigned to combat 'museum fatigue'". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 29 May 2017.
- "Enough with the 'Wow!' already! How to avoid museum fatigue". Lonely Planet. Retrieved 29 May 2017.
- Davey, G. (2005). "What is Museum Fatigue?" (PDF). Visitors Studies Today. 3.
- "Where the Seats Have No Name: In Defense of Museum Benches". American Alliance of Museums. 2018-10-19. Retrieved 2020-04-01.
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