The second of two exhibits APA developed and produced in collaboration with the Ontario Science Center, Psychology! aims to demystify the field with 17 user-friendly exhibits people of all ages will find stimulating. With a focus on such concepts as social interactions, the mind-body connection, attention and perception, and language, Psychology! helps visitors understand the varied psychological terrain traveled between growing up and growing old.
Psychology! served as the inaugural exhibition for the new headquarters of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for two years before hitting the road in 1999.
"We have reached 6 million people thus far with all our exhibits," says Virginia Holt, assistant executive director for science for APA's Science Directorate, who has supervised the project for eight years. "The public has responded well," she continues. "Admissions tend to go up when the psychology exhibit is on display, so that tells us about the attraction of the subject matter." Psychology! is one of the first museum exhibitions to offer psychology as the explanation for such phenomena as speech acquisition or the silent significance of facial expressions. And because many visitors enter bearing misconceptions of a mind-reading discipline of sorts, the experts from APA and the Ontario Science Center strove to encompass psychology's spectrum of real-world applications in an appealing, yet educational, package. Because each exhibit is hands-on, "the experience is much more enjoyable for the visitors," explains Holt.
Psychologists advised Psychology! designers, helping them create activities that would allow people to understand the interaction of their own minds and bodies. In one exhibit, visitors discover the "Stroop effect," the interference that makes it difficult to ignore the meaning of the word "yellow," for example, and instead name the color of the red ink in which it is printed. Another activity asks visitors to hold a refrigerated pipe and concentrate on pleasant thoughts, thereby demonstrating their own powers of imagination over the intense cold.
Although Psychology! was designed for the general public, psychologists also enjoy a visit.
"It is great for psychologists to see their own discipline on display in their communities," says Holt. "We urge each museum to have public programming and put them in touch with local psychologists."
By serving as speakers and discussants for films and brown-bag lunches, psychologists provide more in-depth information to the visitors.
Even without such complementary programming, Psychology! stands out among museum exhibitions of comparable size.
"The data show that visitors spend much more time with our exhibit because they get wrapped up in the activities," says Holt. If just one person comes to appreciate psychology's varied depth and breadth, she continues, "that's all the better for us."
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