Henry Cole Lecture 2010 The curious brain in the museum Uta Frith FBA, FRS UCL Institute of Cognitive NeuroscienceFriday, 20 May 2011
The Royal Society in the V&A In 2010, the Henry Cole lecture also celebrates the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society I am honoured to have been invited as a Fellow of the Royal Society to deliver this years lecture British Galleries: 1660 Charles IIFriday, 20 May 2011First have to explain why I am giving this third Henry Cole Lecture.And it is all to do with the 350th Anniversary of the Royal Society,and with the V&A’s idea that a Fellow might say something that could be relevant to museum education.But there are already connections between the RS and the V&A.In the British Galleries of the museum you can see a variety of objects related to the founding years of the RS.Here is a splendid bust of Charles the second, who granted a Royal Charter to the Society, which was founded in November 1660 in London.
I have no special talent I am only passionately curious Albert Einstein FRS 1879-1955 Royal Society Portrait CollectionFriday, 20 May 2011Here is a portrait of a famous FRS: Albert Einstein, as you probably don’t know him. This portrait hangs in the RS which also houses a magniﬁcentcollection of portraits and archives.The RS has a Centre for the History of Science and continuously uses objects from its collections for exhibitions.The reason I have chosen this portrait is the quote: “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”If it were not presumptuous I would like to say the same about myself.
The original entrance to the South Kensington Museum Science and Art 1857Friday, 20 May 2011There are direct connections between Science and Art right at the foundations of the V&A.Here is the original entrance to the original building at the back of the Madejski Garden. The reliefs symbolise Science on the left, and Art on theright, because the museum was originally devoted to both.
Science and ArtChemistry Architecture Davy BramanteAstronomy Sculpture Newton MichelangeloMechanics Painting Watt TitianFriday, 20 May 2011On the door itself you can see that the 6 panels celebrate 3 pairs of the greatest scientists and artists and put them on equal footing.
Science and Art Ceramic staircase decorated with symbolic ﬁgures of science and art Sackler Centre the V&As centre for public learning through creative design and the artsFriday, 20 May 2011Although the museums were split into those for Science, across the road, and here, for Art and Design, connections remain. Not only in the proudceramic staircase leading to the National Art Library with its symbolic ﬁgures of art and science, but also in the tradition of the V&A’s world leadingand vibrant centre for museum education. I am delighted that this centre applies scientiﬁc methods to test and validate its approaches to learningin a museum environment. This lecture is proof that the V&A takes seriously the possibility that neuroscience can offer insights to education thatare worth considering.
Henry Cole & Richard 1854 Redgrave Head of the Schools of Design at South Kensington “By proper arrangements a Museum may be made in the highest degree instructional. If it be connected with lectures, and means are taken to point out its uses and applications, it becomes elevated from being a mere unintelligible lounge for idlers into an impressive schoolroom for everybody."Friday, 20 May 2011Henry Cole himself was keenly aware of the educational function of the museum. Here is a quote that could not be more to the point:By proper arrangements a Museum may be made in the highest degree instructional. If it be connected with lectures, and means are taken to point out its uses and applications, itbecomes elevated from being a mere unintelligible lounge for idlers into an impressive schoolroom for everybody."
Given that the museum is a “schoolroom for everybody” What insights can neuroscience contribute? What goes on in the mind of people who visit the museum? If we knew - what would it mean for museum education?Friday, 20 May 2011In this lecture tonight I want to explore some of the insights that neuroscience might contribute to museum education. The guiding principle for theselection of such ‘insights’ has been the question, put to me by Morna Hinton, the director of the Sackler Centre:“What goes on in the mind of people who visit the museum?”
Outline of the talk Things that matter in museum education • Teaching others and learning from others • Trust matters • Intentions: Why a work was created • Actions: How a work was created • Authenticity matters • Value matters • Expectation matters • Exploration and exploitation • CuriosityFriday, 20 May 2011Here are the main points that I would like to at least address tonight. They all seem to me to open a window into the mind of the museum visitor.1. Teaching and learning are profoundly social activities.2. We don’t learn equally from any teachers, but from those we trust.3. When we look at a piece in a museum, our brain, quite unbeknown to ourselves, cannot help but ask, why the work was created and how it wascreated.4. When we appreciate objects in a museum, then we take into account, again quite unconsciously, the authenticity of the object, and theimmaterial value of the object, which is regardless of its material value.5. We see what we expect to see and need guidance in this from experts.6. We need a balance between exploration of the new and exploitation of the familiar.7. Finally, I will address the title of this talk - why do we have a curious brain?
The museum is like a brainIt stores cultural memories and it processes cultural information The Brain the most complex structure in the world The V&A the greatest and most comprehensive treasure house in the world 4.5 million objects in V&AFriday, 20 May 2011Let me start with a metaphor of the museum as a brain of society.Like in the real brain, most of the work goes on in a hidden world that the visitor hardly ever sees. This includes many specialist staff and manyspecialist services, rooms and technical facilities.The conscious part of the brain can be compared with the public galleries that are on view for the visitor, the place where communication happenswith other beings. In the case of the museum, these other beings may be long dead, but are still present in their works. They are stillcommunicating with us. This in fact is the miracle of culture. The knowledge of previous generations is not lost but can be built on. Their ideas ofbeauty, function and design, shape and feed our own ideas.
Human beings are the only species who teach deliberately Our brain has a natural disposition to teach and to learn from being taught Csibra & Gergely, TICS 2009 Not all teaching is formal V & A Hochhauser Auditorium V & A Museum EducationFriday, 20 May 2011Human beings are the only species who teach deliberately. We are born to teach as well as to learn. If the signals are present, then we can’t helpbut learn. These signals are social: a direct glance, a pointing ﬁnger, a raised voice. They tell the brain to prepare for a message that is relevantand that deserves attention. What you learn in these informal social situations are general truths, rather then particular facts. In a formal context,for example, in a lecture, or when reading a label in the museum, you can learn about particular facts, - provided of course that you pay attention!Parts of your brain may not be convinced that what you hear is relevant.
We learn by observing others • We don’t have to make our own mistakes Rendell et al. 2010 Science • We learn from others not only by observing people and interacting with them but also by observing objects made by them How can objects teach us? • WOW - some objects (the way they are placed) can’t fail to draw attention • GETTING INSIDE - objects are displayed in context so that learners can perceive the essence: the why and how V & A Glass GalleryFriday, 20 May 2011Learning is profoundly social. We don’t need to make our own mistakes, we can learn by observing others. We can learn by observing the objectsothers designed and manufactured for us. But how can objects signal to our brain that there is a relevant communication that is best attended to?First, objects can by their features or their placement attract attention willy-nilly. But this is rarely enough. The attention opens a channel fordeeper communication. The museum visitor has become curious: automatically the brain asks, well below our awareness: Why this object? How was this object made?
Social pressures in museum education We like what others like Three-year-olds choose novel toys, foods, games, clothes endorsed by same age, same sex peers Shutts, Banaji & Spelke, 2009, Dev Sci Adolescents are even more inﬂuenced by peer choicesFriday, 20 May 2011How do we know if we like an object in the museum? How does the brain compute liking? Many factors enter into this computation, which is far toocomplicated to enter our awareness. One factor has been studied in the laboratory and I am sure museum educators have long known about it. Welike what others like. This is true for 3-year olds, but perhaps even more so for adolescents, who are strongly inﬂuenced by what their peers like.As adults too we are strongly inﬂuenced by knowing, for example, what a celebrity likes. You may be more independent and dislike another’sfavourites. And there are the few who act as leaders of style and taste. These leaders were very prominent in building the original collections of theV&A.
Trust matters Lyons, Young & Keil, 2007 PNASFriday, 20 May 2011How do you become a leader of style? For a young child, you just have to be an adult who can be trusted.
Learning from a trusted source Children copy adult’s wasteful strategy in opening puzzle box. They assume adult must have a good reason: “This is the way to do it”. She trusts the adult He doesn’t Derek Lyons http://bit.ly/g8Z0ugFriday, 20 May 2011There is a strange mystery. 3 and 4-year olds copy all the actions, including completely unnecessary silly actions, when made by an adult whileopening a puzzle box to retrieve a small toy. The children go through the motions even when told they should just retrieve the toy without any sillyactions. They go through the motions even when there is a competitor who reaches straight for the toy. This is over-imitation.Chimpanzees always reach straight for the toy. They are not taken in by the unnecessary actions. Over-imitation is an example of how the humanbrain learns from others not just efficient ways to reach a goal, but also inefficient ways of action. These actions are ‘the proper way we do things’.They are in the design of the object.
Trust matters •Children overimitate because they trust the actions that they see the adult performing more than they trust their own senses: the brain is automatically ready to do this. •Adults do this too. They learn from people they trust. •Trust has to be earned. It can easily be lost. •Museums have built up enormous social capital in trust •This enhances their role and success in teachingFriday, 20 May 2011Overimitation is to do with learning from a trusted source. It is a primary tool for cultural transmission.It is not only children who over-imitate. When we make objects watching experts we often unconsciously adopt their ways of doing things; the wayto achieve the aim can become even more important then the aim itself.But, this mechanism depends on trust.Museums embody trust. This trust has been earned through years of work on collecting and showing authentic objects, and on communicating theoutcome of veriﬁable research. This enhances the museum’s role and success in education.
Which is the real Rembrandt? Once you know - you let go of your liking of the other portrait ‘like a former lover no longer blinded by love’ Martin Kemp, Nature 461 October 2009, p 882 Images Bridgeman Art LibraryFriday, 20 May 2011Trust can be lost when a museum exhibits a fake. As soon as a fake is revealed the museum visitors will cease to like it, even when they did like itbefore.
Culture shapes what we enjoy looking at • Our brain is not a camera Richard Gregory Eye and Brain 1966, 1997 • What matters is not the thing as it appears to our senses • What matters is what we think a thing really is • What matters is why a thing was made and how it was made the object’s history: the intentions of the person who created it the techniques that were used to make it • Our likes and dislikes are inﬂuenced by our beliefs and our trust in others telling us about the why and howFriday, 20 May 2011How come that we can so quickly like and dislike the same object?Our brain is not a camera that simply takes in information. This information is the same before and after we change our liking. Instead our brainputs out information and matches this against the input it receives from the senses. The brain has some preconceived notions about what anobject is and why it might be in the museum.Our beliefs feed these preconceived notions. We tend to get these beliefs from other people, often without being aware of this, by social contagion.In the museum we can get beliefs not through the backdoor, but through informed guidance of our senses by curators, guides and the labels theymake. Why and how an object was made and the object’s history.
‘Why it is done’ matters Beliefs and intentions behind the workFriday, 20 May 2011Our brain is constantly searching for evidence about the intentions of other people. When we see a work of art we are inﬂuenced by the intentionto create the work even more than by its appearance.
There is more to artwork than its current material nature • Even for 3-year olds • They name pictures on the basis of intent - not shape • Child will not name lollipop a balloon even if they look the same This is a This is a • Because it is meant to be a lollipop lollipop balloon Bloom & Markson 1998 Psych SciFriday, 20 May 2011The appearance of two drawings by 3-year-olds can be almost the same. But, to the child who drew these shapes, there is a world of difference.The child intending to draw a balloon will not accept it to be called a lollipop and vice versa. The drawing is what it is meant to be, not what itlooks like.
Theory of mind: Attributing intentions and beliefs • The brain is spontaneously taking into account intentions and beliefs (our own and those of others) without our being aware of it. • Even when looking at an object in the museum • Even more so when we observe an artist creating something • Even more so when creating art ourselves Individuals with autism are not able to spontaneously attribute intentions and beliefs Baron-Cohen, Leslie & Frith, 1985 CognitionFriday, 20 May 2011The brain’s sensitivity to intentions is part and parcel of its disposition to attribute intentions, desires and beliefs to other agents. This is quitespontaneous and does not stop when considering objects that were made by other agents.We know from the study of autism that in this condition, where the brain develops abnormally, the spontaneous ability to attribute intentions toothers is missing.
What is it like not to spontaneously attribute intentions? Can autistic children remember their own intention after they did a drawing? Can they remember another person’s intention? Frith 2008 A very short introduction to Autism OUP En.wikipediaFriday, 20 May 2011Autism teaches us what it is like not to be able to attribute intentions spontaneously.Here is a brief experiment that asked the question: Can autistic childlren remember their own intention after they did a drawing? And can they remember another person’s intention after they too did a drawing?
Draw one of these airplanes with black pencil No visible sign of intention (Happé, Bloom and Frith, unpublished)Friday, 20 May 2011 This is what the experimenter said: draw one of these airplanes. They were identical except for their colour. However, the child was only given a black pencil.
Later, from memory child has to say which airplane she intended to draw Child must recall own intention E.g. the red airplane Same again when experimenter did the drawingFriday, 20 May 2011 Later on the child was asked: which airplane did you draw? There were no visible signs of intention. The intention had to be retrieved from memory. The same question was also asked about a drawing made by the experimenter. The experimenter indicated her intention by gazing at one of the airplanes.
Autistic children have difﬁculty recalling even their own intention 21 six- year-old typically-developing children100 20 eleven-year-old children with autism % (Happé, Bloom and Frith, unpublished) 75 50 Autistic 25 Can recall Can recall Autistic own adult’s 0 intention Cannot Cannot intention recall recall own adult’s intention intentionFriday, 20 May 2011 The results show very clearly that 6-year-old children were well able to recall their own intention, and that of the adult. This was not the case for the 11-year-old autistic children. And this was not due to general memory failure. It is hard to imagine what it means not to be able to attribute, monitor and remember your own intentions - or those of other people. The autistic person has severe problems in social communication. For ordinary people communication is made easy precisely because we take account of intentions, desires and beliefs. Sometimes this is called having a Theory of Mind. But of course, it is an unconscious process, and not like having a theory at all.
‘How it is done’ matters Physical actions behind the workFriday, 20 May 2011It is not only the invisible intentions that the brain is trying to pick up when perceiving a work of art, but also the physical actions needed to bringit about.
The brain’s mirror system Rizzolatti & Craighero 2004 Ann Rev Neurosci Hamilton 2008 QJExp Psych The brain spontaneously links observed and performed actionsmotor output visual inputFriday, 20 May 2011 An important discovery about brain mechanisms are so-called mirror neurons in the monkey, and mirror systems in the human brain. The brain spontaneously links observed and performed actions. This means coding motor output and visual input via the same neurons.
The brain’s mirror system links perception and action • Mirror neurons ﬁre when we see an action being done by another person • The same neurons ﬁre when we do the action ourselves V & A Ceramics StudioFriday, 20 May 2011Mirror neurons ﬁre when we see an action being done by another person.The same neurons ﬁre when we do the action ourselves.This means there is the opportunity for learning through doing and watching others doing things.
The mirror system allows us to align with others When we see an emotional expression we automatically activate the relevant face muscles for this expression Dimberg 2000 Psych SciFriday, 20 May 2011It is not only actions we mirror, but also emotions. This brings about the spontaneous tendency for groups of people to align themselves with eachother.
Reward matters The brain predicts what is going to happen and values outcomes accordingly Unexpected rewards are valued most highly Schultz & Dickinson, 2000 Ann Rev NeurosciFriday, 20 May 2011The brain learns from predictions. It predicts how rewarded it will be by an action. It does this constantly and this is a main engine of learning andremembering. We are particularly pleased by unexpected rewards. These have high value.
Authenticity mattersFriday, 20 May 2011We now come to an aspect of museum culture where museums hold a sort of monopoly. Even if museum visitors use the many websites of the V&Aextensively, including the wonderful facility that allows you to browse the collections, people expect the real thing to be in the museum when theyvisit. I am reminded of bank notes which by themselves are worthless paper, but they have the Bank of England endorsement: ‘I promise to pay thebearer on demand the sum of Twenty Pounds’. I would guess however, that banks nowadays rank far lower in trust than museums.
Authenticity matters - even in early childhood • 3-year-olds prefer to keep the original toy they brought in, not the copy “Because it’s mine” A ‘copying machine’ presents the identical toy • 6-year-olds value (in tokens) a spoon over its copy “Because it once belonged to Queen Elizabeth” • More value is seen in hidden and immaterial property of special objects Hood & Bloom, 2008 CognitionFriday, 20 May 2011An experiment was done in collusion with parents of 3 and 4-year old children. Some of these children had an object they were very attached toand others did not. They brought these objects into the lab.The experimenter pretended to have a perfect copying machine. He copied the objects. Then he let the children choose which one they would takehome.The children who were very attached to the object choose the real object.Six-year olds also preferred a real object over a copy when it had an association with a special person.
www.faberge-exhibition.com/g6_1.html This gold and diamond snuffbox was Harvard Magazine 2003 once owned by Herr Bomm of Vienna This silver snuffbox was a gift from Edward Jenner to Waterhouse, a Professor at Harvard, and contained quills impregnated with cowpox Waterhouse read of Jenner’s work and begged vaccine matter. cowpox vaccine material from him. In 1800, "to convince the faithless" Waterhouse vaccinated his four children and two servants. The six were then exposed to smallpox, without ill effect.Friday, 20 May 2011Here is an experiment for you to do. You are allowed to take one perfect duplicate away. Would you happy to have the duplicate of the silver boxthat belonged to Edward Jenner, the pioneer of smallpox vaccination? I don’t think so. You know the real thing is directly connected with Jenner, butthe copy is not. Concerning the gold box, you might be happy with a duplicate. The original owner does not perhaps mean that much to you, butgold is gold. I propose that the original silver box signals a higher value than the original gold box.
Lack of Authenticity has negative effects on social behaviour and ethics These characters are not innocent holiday makers To catch a thief Hitchcock 1955Friday, 20 May 2011There are also effects from lack of authenticity. And they are very negative. Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in Hitchcock’s comedy ‘To catch a thief’ arenot what they seem.
Lack of Authenticity People merely wearing fake designer glasses feel inauthentic. This caused them to cheat more in tests and to be more cynical about the motives of other people Being associated with a counterfeit product increased dishonesty and cynicism Gino, Norton & Ariely 2010 Psych.SciFriday, 20 May 2011An experiment was conducted where students at an American University were given either genuine or fake Chloe sunglasses.While they were wearing them they were given some tests and questionnaires.The people who wore the fake sunglasses differed in their responses. They were more likely to cheat in tests and more cynical about the motives ofother people when given questionnaires.
Experts matter David Bailey’s Box of Pin-ups 1965 Vidal SassoonFriday, 20 May 2011The brain needs to have information and prior knowledge to interpret the world.Experts are particularly trusted and can supply the prior knowledge. Here one expert in photography portrays another. Two celebrated stylists ofthe Sixtees.
Experiment where participants could freely choose pop songs they did not yet own When scanned the reward centres of the brain lit up when they obtained the song they had chosen vs one they had not chosen The reward centres lit up even more when the chosen song was one that experts valued more highly Campbell-Meiklejohn et al. 2010 Curr BiolFriday, 20 May 2011In this experiment participants were presented with pairs of pop songs and always choose one that they would like to take away. When they got thesong they wanted they were of course pleased and this was reﬂected in brain activity. But brain activity was much enhanced when (trumped-up) DJexperts agreed with their choice, and much reduced when they disagreed.
The agreement of experts is rewarding Reward Reward areas areas activated activated when you when get what people you want agree with Campbell-Meiklejohn et al. 2010 Curr Biol your choiceFriday, 20 May 2011Here are some more details of the experiment. Presumably you are pleased when museum experts choose the objects that you like too. The ideafor museum experts to contrast objects of bad taste with objects of good taste objects would give a similar amount of pleasure to you if youagreed. Exactly this idea was tried by Henry Cole with his cabinet of horrors. This has been explored by Christopher Grayling in the ﬁrst Henry Colelecture (V&A publ. 2010): http://bit.ly/jk0kmf
Prior knowledge matters Gregory 1997 Phil Trans RSoc Lond BFriday, 20 May 2011The brain is not a camera, but needs prior knowledge to interpret the world.
Our sensory brain needs to learn about value • No crowd gathered. Nobody stayed for whole performance, they lacked the right expectation Joshua Bell playing at subway in Washington DC • Many would have paid $$$$$ to listen in concert hall - having the right expectation • Value includes deeper things behind art and its production Advert for Joshua Bell playingPaul Bloom, 2010 How pleasure works. NY Norton concert in Washington DCFriday, 20 May 2011A strange experiment was conducted at a Subway Station in Washington. The famous violinist Joshua Bell was persuaded to turn up one morningand play. No crowd gathered. Not many coins were given. But many of the commuters who did not stay to listen would have paid hundreds ofdollars to hear Bell play in concert.They would have heard the same violinist and the same piece. But they could not value the performance without the knowledge.
Our brain is not like a camera • We perceive what we know. We guess, and send out probes to test our prediction. Unconsciously. • When our prediction turns out to be wrong, we get interested • We learn from prediction errors • We need some knowledge to start with Kersten et al. 2004 Ann Rev PsychFriday, 20 May 2011The idea that prediction errors are the critical ingredient in learning continues to gather support.
Top down expectations control what we see controlling neurons process top-down expectations driving neurons process bottom-up information Two kinds of neural systems Chris Frith Making up the Mind 2007 BlackwellFriday, 20 May 2011This is a plausible speculation about two major systems in the brain. I am very keen on this contrast that my husband, Chris Frith, has elaboratedin his book. I use it a lot in my talks when to give some rough sketch of how it is possible to perceive reality and yet not hallucinate.
What is this? We don’t see if we don’t knowFriday, 20 May 2011
You can now recognise them easilyFriday, 20 May 2011
What about the curious brain?Friday, 20 May 2011Finally, what is curiosity? Is it a good thing?
Curiosity lights up reward centres in the brain You will pay token for answer to quiz question Curiosity is linked to reward value of information And enhances learning from new information Brain regions showing higher activity to questions that arouse curiosity These regions are associated with reward and connect to regions which are crucial to learning and remembering new information Kang, Hsu, Krajbich, Loewenstein,McCLure, Wang & Camerer, 2009 Psych SciFriday, 20 May 2011You are prepared to pay for information if you are sufficiently curious.
Wide eyed and curious V&A brooch ca 1800 Pupil size can reveal how curious you areFriday, 20 May 2011Curiosity is not only visible in the brain. But Kang and colleagues also showed that the size of the pupil is an index of curiosity.
The most curious showed the biggest response when they could see the answer to a question they did not know They also remembered the answer Time in secs Kang, Hsu, Krajbich, Loewenstein,McCLure, Wang & Camerer, 2009 Psych SciFriday, 20 May 2011There was a quiz game. The most curious people showed the biggest response in their pupil size, when they could see the answer to a questionthey did not know. The interesting thing is that they also later remembered the answer better for just those quiz questions they were curiousabout.
Explore vs exploit People exploit when they consistently choose the same option, believing it yields the highest rewards; they explore if they try new options, looking for something better. Sutton & Barto 1998 Reinforcement Learning MIT PressFriday, 20 May 2011Being curious leads us to explore. The counterpoint is to exploit.
Not idle curiosity - but harvesting resources Imagine you and your tribe ﬁnd a fruit tree. Hurray. You stay and eat. But, when is it time to move on? Some members of the tribe might be more inclined to explore than others. There is a cost to exploring. Exploiting is governed by reward systems of the brain In the museum: Explore. Exploring is governed by controlling and Then familiarise yourself planning systems of the brain with the place you found. After a while you need to go off exploring again.Friday, 20 May 2011Curiosity is not idle. It has an evolutionary function in foraging.
The exploring brain Controlling neurons are active Explore = red Exploit = blue Frontopolar Cortex Explore = red Exploit = blue Intraparietal cortex Daw, O’Doherty, Dayan, Seymour, Dolan, Nature, 2006Friday, 20 May 2011Exploration means that the controlling neurons in the frontal and parietal parts of the brain are active.Exploitation has a reverse effect and activity in these regions of the brain decreases.
Boredom • If we perform a task very out of line with the level of our skill we are bored • Boredom signals that some more rewarding task exists • The right response is to explore V& A Watercolour J E Millais ca 1864Friday, 20 May 2011Perhaps the time has come for me to sense that you might get as bored as the girl in the picture who is sitting through her ‘second sermon’.There needs to be a balance between exploration and exploitation. Boredoam is a signal that we should get ready to explore.
What insights from neuroscience for museum education? • Learning from others includes learning from objects in the museum • They feed the curious brain • We attend to why and how of objects • The curious brain propels us to explore • We are guided in our exploration by • Trust • Value • Authenticity • Prior KnowledgeFriday, 20 May 2011Summary
Where are inspiration and wonder freely on offer? in the museum in science Thanks to the Royal Society and the V&A Thank you for listeningFriday, 20 May 2011