Based upon the findings of hundreds of long-term interviews with museum visitors, Falk observes that museum visits generate complex, personally rich meanings for people. He hypothesizes that visitors have a working model of what an art museum affords and self-select to use the museum based on a limited set of identity-related self-aspects—traits, roles, attitudes, and group memberships associated with self-identification. He further hypothesizes that visitors utilize these self-aspects both prospectively in justifying their visit, revealed through self-defined visit motivations, and again retrospectively in order to make sense of their visit, revealed when reflecting upon and describing their visit. Although museum visitors could posses an infinite number of identity-related museum self-aspects, this does not appear to be the case; in general, the ways in which people describe their purpose for visiting museums tend to cluster into five basic categories. The results of numerous studies indicate that a majority of museum visitors can be categorized as possessing a single dominant one of these five identity-related motivations. The meanings made by individuals classified as falling within different motivational categories significantly differ, both in the short and long term. The article describes these five categories of identity-related visit motivations and provides initial thoughts about how these ideas might be used to improve art museum practice.

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