Primate behavioural and cognitive research is increasingly conducted on direct public view in zoo settings. The potential of such facilities for public engagement with science is often heralded, but evidence of tangible, positive effects on public understanding is rare. Here, the effect of a new zoo-based primate research centre on visitor behaviour, learning and attitudes was assessed using a quasi-experimental design. Zoo visitors approached the primate research centre more often when a scientist was present and working with the primates, and reported greater awareness of primates (including conservation) compared to when the scientist was not present. Visitors also reported greater perceived learning when the scientist was present. Installation of information signage had no main effect on visitor attitudes or learning. Visitors who interacted with the signage, however, demonstrated increased knowledge and understanding when asked about the specific information present on the signs (which was related to the ongoing facial expression research at the research centre). The findings show that primate behaviour research centres on public view can have a demonstrable and beneficial effect on public understanding of science.