Belonging and Museums

Key insights from Gather’s convening on belonging with Stanford Psychologist Greg Walton.

Belonging and Museums

Stanford Psychology Professor Greg Walton–a leading researcher on the psychology of belonging–-to better understand how belonging works, why it’s important, and how institutions making even small changes can see large impacts on creating more welcoming, inclusive, and diverse spaces where everyone can flourish. Here are three insights from our conversation on belonging and museums with Professor Walton:

Belonging is an important psychological process, and belonging uncertainty is prevalent in many settings, including museums.

Walton defined belonging as a relationship between a person and a place. He referenced years of research that demonstrates why it is important for people to feel respected and valued in a given context, and how when they do, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated.Social psychologists understand that how people make sense of things is important. When people are uncertain whether they belong, they look for cues to help them determine if they fit in, if they are liked, and if they are valued and respected. But searching for cues about belonging can make someone feel anxious, less motivated, and less engaged.

Just telling people they belong, while well-intentioned, may actually exacerbate the problem.

You can’t just tell people how to feel. Simply telling people they belong may miss an important opportunity to actually understand why they might not feel like they belong in a particular setting. Instead of telling people how they should feel, said Walton, we should instead focus on ways to make our institutions places of genuine belonging.

Even small changes can make a big difference.

Walton has done extensive work in what are called “wise interventions” which are smaller, non-clinical practices that can have substantial impacts on the ways people feel and make sense of their environments. He explained that Interventions can sometimes seem overwhelming and dramatic, but encouraged us to think small “i” not big “I” intervention. These can be small initiatives that have the capacity to reshape how people make sense of themselves, the world around them, and society at large.

Read the complete recap from our conversation with Greg Walton on Gather’s community site.

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