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Visitor Trust When Museums Are Not Neutral

Thesis by Catherine Wood (2018)

The idea that museums are trustworthy sources of information is a frequent refrain among museum professionals and museum advocates. Research into trust in museums and sources of information more broadly suggests that information sources are more trusted when they are perceived to be neutral; however, museums are increasingly embracing non-neutral positions and addressing contemporary social issues in their exhibitions. This study examined the degree to which visitors trust the information presented in museum exhibitions that address contemporary social issues, as well as the factors that visitors consider when determining trustworthiness. The researcher interviewed 57 visitors to three exhibitions that featured contemporary social issues. Results showed that visitors had a high level of trust in both the information presented in the exhibition and the museums that hosted the exhibitions. Visitors considered a range of reasons when determining whether the exhibitions’ information was trustworthy, most frequently citing the presence of evidence, the perceived accuracy of the information on view, and a trust in the presenting institution. These findings suggest that museums can present socially-engaged and/or non-neutral exhibitions while maintaining visitor trust.

Keyword: Class of 2018, Social Psychology, Information Science, Museum Studies, museology, Communication and the Arts, Psychology, Information, Museum, Neutrality, Social Issue, Trust, Visitor


Wood, C., Luke, Jessica, Murawski, Mike, & Parker, Walter. (2018). Visitor Trust When Museums Are Not Neutral. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.