Through June 2020, the Exploratorium invites you to pull up a chair and dive into Middle Ground: Reconsidering Ourselves and Others, an exploration into human social interactions in the middle of vibrant Civic Center. The new outdoor installation on the western steps of the San Francisco Main Library at 100 Larkin Street features 14 interactive, multimedia exhibits.

Middle Ground is part of San Francisco's Civic Center Commons initiative, a multiyear effort to create a lively and welcoming heart of the city. Social scientists have studied how we think, feel, and behave in relation to other people for decades. Their investigations have shed light on bias and stereotyping, humor and generosity, how we work together, and how we pull apart into tribes.

Part of a series of interactive outdoor exhibits, Middle Ground is designed by the Exploratorium’s Studio for Public Spaces in partnership with the Civic Center Initiative, and funded by the National Science Foundation and Science Sandbox, to bring dynamic and engaging interactive installations to Fulton Street, UN Plaza and Civic Center Plaza.

Middle Ground hopes to inspire bystanders to examine our biases and stereotypes, how we work as a team, the stories we tell ourselves about other people and how we all interact with each other subconsciously in our daily lives.

Here are a few new exhibits:

Pulling Together: Working together, do you pull your weight? Do you work your hardest when you’re working with others? Does it make a difference if other people can see how hard you’re working? Grab a rope, get ready to pull, and discover the phenomenon of social loafing firsthand.

Unseen Stories: There's what people see—and then there's the unseen story. The people we pass by on the street have stories to tell—and so do we. Slow down your thinking and consider these questions: What do people assume about me based on how I look, talk, dress, or carry myself? What do I assume about others, and what might the real story be?

Sharing Faces: See yourself in the faces of others. Sit down at this new-media exhibit and you'll see someone else's face looking back at you. When you move around or make a face, your movements and expressions are matched by images of countless others who have done the same thing. How does it feel to see your expressions reflected back at you in other people's faces? Do you feel a sense of connection with others?

New Digital Content. Middle Ground offers online essays and interactive digital experiences aimed at making you aware about how you think—and how you interact with others as you go about your daily life.


Pull up a chair and play your way to a deeper understanding of social science phenomena. Explore interactive digital content about how we think, feel, and behave in relation to other people. Pick a side, guess why people do the sometimes-puzzling things they do, follow an order or break a rule—shed a little light on the why and how we go through our daily lives alongside our friends, neighbors, and strangers.

Who Do You Think I Am? Explore the ways you perceive people by selecting images and statements that seem to fit each other.

  • Unseen Stories: There’s what people see—and then there’s the unseen story. You can even share your own stories and photos: #MiddleGroundSF.
  • My-Side Bias: Pick an issue, read arguments for or against the issue by clicking the “yes” side or the “no” side.


Dive into what makes us—and others—tick. No matter where we live, we walk among others. We watch people, form opinions, follow the crowd or not. All day, we decide how to be with people. For decades, social scientists have studied and learned much about such human interactions. In the essays below, discover some of what shapes our social lives.

  • Thinking About People: What runs through your mind as you're running around the city? The field of study called social cognition offers insights into how we think about other people. Explore some of the ways in which we size up those around us and make sense of our social world.
  • The Effect of Others: Other people affect us constantly, whether we are aware of it or not. Scientists call this social influence. Even just thinking about other people can affect us. Explore some of the ways in which others shape what we think, feel, or do.
  • Being Sociable: The science is in: we’re happier, even healthier, when we make regular, positive connections with other people. How can we make the best of our social world?

Stop by and learn something new at this exciting, free outdoor exhibition on the Larkin Street steps - or, explore fresh interactive digital content about how we think, feel, and behave toward other people.

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