Why are people less likely to enter an art gallery if nobody else is there?

People don't like to go into spaces that are not very busy and there are a number of psychological causes for this behaviour. 

23rd September 2010
Why are people less likely to enter an art gallery if nobody else is there? (iStock)

Asked by: Shane Record, Folkstone

There are probably two factors at work. It may be that a gallery is initially empty because it’s a quiet time of day. As each potential visitor stands outside and considers whether to enter or not, he uses the same criteria as every other visitor. Whatever it was that made the gallery empty up to that point continues to hold true, and it stays empty.

But we are social animals and an additional discouragement comes simply from the fact that the gallery is empty. An empty gallery, like an empty restaurant, creates an alarm signal. What’s wrong with it? Is there a danger we can’t see?

This primitive unease evolved as a predator avoidance tactic. The deserted waterhole may be deserted because there is a leopard hiding in the bushes, whereas the crowded one is presumably safe. Leopard attacks in art galleries are fairly rare, but primitive fears are replaced with more complex ones. Perhaps we will be pressured into buying something. Or maybe the art isn’t critically acclaimed.

 


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