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Inspire: Understanding Scent Inclusion in Museum Settings

Thesis by Molly J. Bishop (2017)

The purpose of this study was to describe the phenomenon of using scented or aromatic materials to engage a visitor’s sense of smell in museum exhibits. The research focused on why museum staff included scent in an exhibit, what design and implementation considerations museums made, and what impact museum staff felt scent had on visitors. Literature reviewed indicated that scent has been understudied in museums but that scent can impact human emotion, behavior, and memory. This study was significant to the museological field because it added to literature devoted to the impact of scent in museum exhibits. Data were collected via in-person and phone interviews with museum staff from three case study sites that used scent in an exhibit: The Tech Museum of Innovation, the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, and the Museum of History and Industry. Study results suggested museums chose to include scent when it enhanced the exhibit, concerns about scent were mitigated, and staff found the idea enjoyable. Additionally, the study suggested museums base design choices on how scent served the purpose of the exhibit, ease of implementation, and how surmountable challenges to using scent were. Finally, this study suggested scent contributed to positive visitor experiences, helped visitors connect with exhibit content, and did not affect visitor health. The limitations of this study were small sample size for two of the three museums participating in the study, that each museum employed different fragrance technologies, and that each site was a different type and size of museum.

Keywords: Class of 2017, museum, museology, museum studies, research, scent, senses, interpretation, exhibitions


Bishop, M., O’Donnell, Wilson, Gire, David, & Logan, Dave. (2017). Inspire: Understanding Scent Inclusion in Museum Settings. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.