Transforming a museum into a living lab with portable technology

January 2023 Edition (08)

Transforming a museum into a living lab with portable technology

An interview summary with Elaine de Guise

Elaine de Guise, Ph. D.

Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Université de Montréal

Researcher, CRIR–Institut universitaire sur la réadaptation en déficience physique de Montréal (IURDPM), Lindsay Pavilion, CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal

Development of Tools for Assessing Concussions and Traumatic Brain Injuries Laboratory 


This interview is situated in the VITALISE series.

VITALISE is a H2020 EU-funded project that aims to harmonize Living Lab services and open up Living Lab infrastructures to facilitate and promote Open Research & Innovation activities in the Health and Wellbeing domain in Europe and beyond.


What is the NEURO-MBAM project and what is the main idea behind it?

The idea of this project is to pilot ways of collecting scientific data in an everyday-life environment. In this case, at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (acronym MBAM in French). The question is essentially, are we able to leave our laboratories and go test people in a less controlled environment like the museum with all of our devices and technologies?

In what context are you trying to answer that question?

We are working in the context of a study looking at the effects of a visit to the museum on mobility, cognition, and well-being. We first started with a healthy older adult population and then moved on to see if we could do the same thing but with people who have had a stroke and are still mobile.


This project is linked to two of CRIR’s 2022-2028 Strategic Orientations:

  • #3 Promoting inclusion, justice and social participation through inclusive environments
  • #4 Advancing the science of knowledge mobilization and translation


What technology did you bring to the museum?

This is a project with multiple researchers interested in different aspects.

Sylvie Nadeau and Patrick Boissy are both interested in mobility, so together, they are evaluating the ability to the sit down and get up, how one’s walk may change over the course of the museum visit, how they walk around the museum (for how long, how many steps, etc.), and more. To do this, they are using AppleWatches, motion sensors, and a GAITRite mat, which is a portable sensitive walkway transported from the laboratory to the museum.

Louis Bherer is interested in cognition so he is measuring the kind of brain activity that appears in the prefrontal region of the brain when someone is looking at or analyzing an artwork. He is using a portable near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) device to help measure this. Simply, it is a cap that sits on your head and uses infrared light to detect changes in the brain.

Eva Kehayia is using Pupils Labs’ eye tracking glasses. Eva is interested in the experience of reading the descriptions accompanying the artwork, particularly of people who have had a stroke and have aphasia. She gives the participants two descriptions, the museum’s normal description and a simpler description, and then uses the glasses to track how much time they spend looking at the description versus the artwork.

Tiiu Poldma is documenting, with the use of photographs and live observations, the physical characteristics of the environment, the circulation patterns in the museum, and the follow-ups of the project participants and their interactions with the museum while using the different technology. For example, does the NIRS cap disturb other museum visitors? Do the participants feel safe and secure while moving around the museum?

Finally, myself, I am interested in the psychological aspect. For this, no special technology was needed. I used various paper and pencil questionnaires before and after their museum visit. I evaluated elements such as, the ability for participants to move from one task to another, working memory, memory capacity, pain, fatigue, anxiety, stress, wellbeing, and the degree of satisfaction of the experience.

Wow, what a team! What has it been like working together? Have you learned anything new?

Regardless of the obstacles we faced, it is possible to conduct research outside of our laboratories in a stimulating environment like a museum. All in all, it’s been an incredibly enriching experience that has allowed me to collaborate with researchers outside of my domain and also broaden my research interests.

Let’s focus on your psychological aspect, what does the data tell us?

One thing we have seen to date is the healthy older adults and the stroke patients both had the same levels of well-being, stress, anxiety, and satisfaction after the museum visit. This means, it does not seem to be creating any more stress or anxiety in the stroke patients and they are all satisfied. Although, the differences we are seeing is the stroke patients have more cognitive difficulties and are more tired. However, despite this fatigue, they enjoyed their experience and had a sense of wellbeing which is very interesting!

What does it mean for NEURO-MBAM to be part of the Vitalise project?

It means in the Fall of 2021 we shared our scientific methodology from NEURO-MBAM with the Vitalise network and there will be teams of researchers around the world that will reproduce our methodology in museums (notably, in Thessaloniki, Greece, to start). After which, we will put all of our data together to have a larger database of results to analyze and also have a better understanding of how transferable the idea is to different countries and cultures.

Who funded this wonderful project and what are the next steps?

This pilot project is funded by Quebec Rehabilitation Research Network (REPAR), the Quebec Network for Research on Aging (RQRV), and the Ingénierie de technologies interactives en réadaptations regrouping (INTER) in collaboration with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

There are many things we would love to do from here! One thing is to open it up to different populations. For example, evaluating a group of people with Parkinson’s, with Alzheimer’s, or my expertise – people who have had a traumatic brain injury. Another is to eventually develop and define, in collaboration with museum employees and patient partners, a museum visit as a proper intervention. For this, we would need further studies to better understand what the visit would need to include, how long it should be, how it varies depending on the population/symptoms, etc. There are many more discussions to be had with all our collaborators!


Thank you so much for sharing! It has been a pleasure discovering your work and fingers crossed for future funding so the team can take these ideas further.


Interview and text: Alida EsmailCoordinator—Partnerships and Knowledge Mobilization, CRIR at: