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Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth: Decision-Making about Acquisitions at Community Historical Organizations

Thesis by Brendan McCauley (2016)

The purpose of this study was to describe acquisitions policy at community historical organizations through a decision-making perspective. Five curators from community historical organizations in King County, Washington, were interviewed about their decision-making processes regarding gifts offered for collections. These processes were analyzed through the lens of behavioral economics, which describes the machinery of human decision-making and the biases and errors to which it is prone. The research showed that curators utilize intuitive heuristics, are prone to some intuitive biases, but rarely regret the decisions they make about acquisitions. Further, mission and storage were the greatest factors in making decisions. Findings inform the fields approach to decision-making, not just with respect to acquisitions but all facets of museum decision-making.


Keywords: research, decision-making, collections, history museums, psychology, behavioral economic


McCauley, B. (2016). Looking a gift horse in the mouth: Decision-making about acquisitions at community historical organizations. (Order No. 10162450). Available from Dissertations & Theses @ University of Washington WCLP; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1844057898). Retrieved from