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The Psychologist News - Science Museum 'Mind Maps' exhibition opens
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January 30, 2014
  Science Museum 'Mind Maps' exhibition opens

The Science Museum in London has launched a dedicated psychology exhibition called Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology. Supported by the British Psychological Society and curated by BPS Curator of Psychology Philip Loring, the exhibition charts changes in the ways we've studied the mind and treated mental illness from 1780 to the present day.

The exhibition is free to the general public, and our readers are encouraged to visit. ‘I hope psychologists and psychology students will experience the pleasure of encountering historical figures they may have heard of in textbooks in a new and surprising context,’ says Phil Loring. ‘They’ll also be able to appreciate the continuing significance of some of the “historical” technologies on show, like brain scanning, EEG, and behavioural therapy.’

Mind Maps, which opened in December and runs until the summer, begins with a zone called Picturing Brain Activity (1980s to present). Here visitors are introduced to modern methods for visualising the brain and they can see one of the earliest PET brain scanners used for research. The remainder of the exhibition is then divided into four main time periods and themes: From Spirits to Nerves (1780 to 1810); Nervous Exhaustion (1880 to 1920); Brain Waves and Wonder Drugs (1945 to 1985); and Into the Future (2013 to… ).

From Ancient Greece to the Middle Ages and beyond, physicians and scientists believed that nerves were filled with ‘animal spirits’ – a kind of mystical substance supposedly created in the brain’s cavities. The first main section of Mind Maps explores how this idea was displaced thanks to advances in the understanding of electricity and magnetism.

In Italy in the 1780s Luigi Galvani discovered that sparks of electricity caused frogs’ legs to twitch, leading him to propose that nerves work via ‘animal electricity’. Visitors can see some of Galvani’s original tools he used to make this discovery – items that haven’t been displayed in public for over a hundred years. Early in the 19th century, individuals like cleric John Wesley began to champion the use of electric shocks to treat ailments supposedly caused by nervous disorders. Some of the earliest shock generators used for this purpose are also on display.

The second part of the exhibition coincides with the dawn of experimental psychology. Here visitors can see instruments used by Hermann von Helmholtz to study the speed of a nerve impulse – ‘the speed of thought’. This section also contains Wilhelm Wundt’s control hammer (for calibrating reaction time apparatus), Gustav Fechner’s sound pendulum for studying the ‘just noticeable difference’ in time intervals between clicks, and much more. ‘The closer [these early psychophysicists] looked the less clear the distinction between the physical body and the mind became,’ reads the exhibition display.

After the Second World War, technological advances that had been applied to radar and radio were now directed towards study of the brain, giving rise to such innovations as EEG (electroencephalography, used to record the surface electrical activity of the brain). The third part of the exhibition explores these techniques: visitors can hear what a recording of nerve cells sounds like, and they can see one of the first commercially available EEG recorders.

The same era also witnessed the rise of several controversial treatments, including electro-convulsive therapy (where electricity is used to induce a brain seizure – this remains a radical form of treatment for depression today), lobotomy and drug therapies. Other exhibits here include apparatus used by the EEG pioneer Greg Walter, and modern and retro packaging for psychotropic drugs.

The final part of the exhibition takes us up to the present day and beyond, with the recent announcement on both sides of the Atlantic to invest in bold new initiatives to map the structure and function of the brain. Here you can see a coil used for transcranial magnetic stimulation (a technique that allows researchers to temporarily interrupt function in specific parts of the brain), dramatic images of the brain’s white matter pathways, and a modern EEG sensory net used for sleep research. There are also displays related to cognitive behavioural therapy and the recently launched self-help book prescription scheme.

‘With a few notable exceptions borrowed from other London museums, such as the Renaissance dissection of the human nervous system and Freud’s original sketches of nerve cells, we sourced almost all of the over 150 objects from the Science Museum’s extraordinary storage vaults,’ says Loring. ‘The BPS curatorship began in 2009, which allowed me a couple years to get to know the breadth and depth of these vast collections. Once I had that background, developing the exhibition took about two years of intensive work in collaboration with a team of experienced exhibition developers and designers.’

Walking through this wonderful exhibition I was struck by how many modern controversies have echoed through the ages – the desire and struggle to explain the mind in terms of the physical matter of the brain, and the ongoing tension between biological and psychological perspectives on mental illness. ‘Do you think the exhibition tells a story of progress,’ I asked Phil Loring, ‘or are we just as far as ever from reconciling the worlds of mind and brain?’

‘I don't think it is an either-or situation,’ he told me. ‘Psychological knowledge and techniques have undeniably progressed, and at the same time the terrain we now call “mental health” has changed so profoundly that a single overarching progress narrative would be misleading. We chose to organise the exhibition as a series of episodes which could be explored backward or forward in time in order to reflect this complexity.’

 

Christian Jarrett

Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology is at the Science Museum in London until 12 August. Photographs of some of the exhibits are available online together with further information about the exhibition.


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    Posted By: Debbie Gordon @ 30/01/2014 01:52 PM     News from the Psychologist  

January 31, 2014

Comments


 

An interesting note to add to this is an extract from my paper "50 Years of psychology in Africa" (reprinted in a fechschrift in honour of Prof. A.C.Mundy-Castle which was submitted to the Association):

My position at the NIPR involved the 'new' science of electroencephalography, so I had to remain in England for a while to learn how to use an EEG machine and to find out about contemporary developments in the study of brain and behaviour. Key figures in this process were NI), Bristol, and neurologist Denis Hill at the Maudsley ospital in London.  An interesting and somewhat horrifying experience was viewing a prefrontal lobotomy at the BNI. I recently related it to a former Burden colleague, Ray Cooper, who had in his possession the tool used for this operation, an old-fashioned letter-opener engraved with the Scottish quote, "inna forget". And I have never forgotten it...Ray thought I was possibly the only person still alive who had witnessed this bizarre event.


 Posted By: Alastair Mundy-Castle @ 31/01/2014 05:00 PM   :  Post a reply

 

An interesting note to add to this is an extract from my paper "50 Years of psychology in Africa" (reprinted in a fechschrift in honour of Prof. A.C.Mundy-Castle which was submitted to the Association):

My position at the NIPR involved the 'new' science of electroencephalography, so I had to remain in England for a while to learn how to use an EEG machine and to find out about contemporary developments in the study of brain and behaviour. Key figures in this process were NI), Bristol, and neurologist Denis Hill at the Maudsley ospital in London.  An interesting and somewhat horrifying experience was viewing a prefrontal lobotomy at the BNI. I recently related it to a former Burden colleague, Ray Cooper, who had in his possession the tool used for this operation, an old-fashioned letter-opener engraved with the Scottish quote, "inna forget". And I have never forgotten it...Ray thought I was possibly the only person still alive who had witnessed this bizarre event.


 Posted By: Alastair Mundy-Castle @ 31/01/2014 05:00 PM   :  Post a reply

 

two errors! festschrift - not fechschrift and I have an errant 'd'. It's 'Dinna forget'!


 Posted By: Alastair Mundy-Castle @ 31/01/2014 05:04 PM   :  Post a reply

 

two errors! festschrift - not fechschrift and I have an errant 'd'. It's 'Dinna forget'!


 Posted By: Alastair Mundy-Castle @ 31/01/2014 05:04 PM   :  Post a reply

 

two errors! festschrift - not fechschrift and I have an errant 'd'. It's 'Dinna forget'!


 Posted By: Alastair Mundy-Castle @ 31/01/2014 05:04 PM   :  Post a reply

 

two errors! festschrift - not fechschrift and I have an errant 'd'. It's 'Dinna forget'!


 Posted By: Alastair Mundy-Castle @ 31/01/2014 05:04 PM   :  Post a reply

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