Department of Educational Psychology


Date of this Version



Published in Museums & Social Issues 1:1 (Spring 2006), pp. 69–86.


Copyright © 2006 Left Coast Press, Inc. Used by permission.


In spite of overwhelming scientific evidence supporting evolution, a large percentage of the Ameri-can public does not understand or accept the fundamental principles of evolutionary theory. Museums have an important role in educating children and adults about evolution. This paper reviews recent museum visitor studies, which suggest that while visitors are interested in learning about and less likely to reject evolution than the general public, they tend to have a limited understanding of evolutionary concepts. A new conceptual framework, based on developmental research, indicates that visitors reason about evolution differently depending on the type of organism they are considering, applying evolutionary principles to some species-change scenarios but not others. The use of a conceptual framework that builds on previous visitor research may lead to a deeper understanding of how visitors reason about evolution and how museums may use this understanding to improve the effectiveness of their exhibits.