Get ready for goose bumps in new science of fear exhibit
Jerell Timmons decides whether or not he wants to reach into the box that may or may not contain a snake. Reminder Publications photo by Natasha Clark
By Courtney Llewellyn
Reminder Assistant Editor
BOSTON Your heart starts beating faster. The hair on your arms stands up on its ends. You swallow nervously. Dare you reach into the box?
The "Fear of Animals" room is the first stop of the Fear Challenge Course at the Museum of Science's latest interactive exhibit, "Goose Bumps! The Science of Fear," open now through Jan. 4. Three terrariums sit in the "Fear of Animals" room, containing a scorpion, a cockroach and a snake. Tubes lead from each terrarium down into a black box, which visitors are invited to reach into to find out if the creepy crawlies have wandered down into them.
This reporter only reached into the snake box, because I already know what a snake feels like. Still, I had the classic human physical reactions of fear. As did my fellow adventurers, Shaun Slater, Jerell Timmons and fellow reporter Natasha Clark.
"Goose Bumps!" is both a fun and informative exhibit. Visitors can learn why humans react the way we do, exactly what our bodies do when set on edge and then test the limits of our own fears -- in a safe environment.
The other three rooms of the Fear Challenge Course are "Fear of Electric Shock," "Fear of Loud Noises" and "Fear of Falling."
"Goose Bumps!" opens with what has been considered frightening over the course of recent human history. "Fear and Society" covers everything from bicycles to witch hunts, Halloween candy to rock 'n' roll, video games to el chupacabra. When something becomes scary to a large enough population, it is considered a "moral panic." Remember how people panicked over Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast?
From there, visitors are invited to create their own scary movie and see what tricks of the trade moviemakers use to frighten their audiences. You can choose your own setting, music and sound effects. Our group created a thriller called "The Living Room."
From there, we moved on to "Fear in the Wild," which covers the three instinctual responses to fear: flight, fight or freeze (or as I call it, "deer in the headlights"). This is an immersive video game that allows visitors to discover how fear helps all animals stay alive.
Then we began our journey through the Fear Challenge Course. Once our group had conquered our fear of animals, we tested our fear of loud noises. A camera captures visitors' reactions to the loud boom, which they can see on a video monitor afterward in slow motion.
Next, it was "Fear of Electric Shock." Visitors are instructed to place their fingers on two metal nodules and wait for an electric shock to come. The anticipation of the shock is more frightening than the shock itself. Your heart race increases and your body stiffens in anticipation.
The Challenge Course ends with "Fear of Falling," where brave visitors are strapped to a large metal frame and then allowed to fall backward. Don't worry -- you'll land on a large air mattress. Again, a camera is placed in front of the victim's -- I mean, volunteer's -- face so he or she can see how they react.
In each room of the Challenge Course is a computer on which visitors can log their reactions to the various scary stimuli on a scale from one to seven. I rated my fall at a four. It would've been a seven if I hadn't known ahead of time I would be landing on something soft.
To calm your nerves after going through the obstacle course, learn about the ways humans deal with what they're scared of with "Coping with Fear." This exhibit covers what fears are common at different stages in our lives and ways to help children move past their fears.
The exhibit ends with a visit to the "Fear Lab" and "Mr. Goose Bumps," a 20-foot-tall model who illustrates what happens both inside and outside our bodies when something scary happens.
"Goose Bumps!" allows visitors to discover the science behind the physical and emotional responses of the life saving emotion of fear, according to a release from the Museum of Science. The exhibit was developed by the California Science Center.
The exhibit on the science of fear is included in regular museum admission, which is $19 for adults, $17 for seniors 60 and older and $16 for children ages three to 11. For more information, call (617) 723-2500 or visit www.mos.org.