School of Psychology

Festival of Science and Curiosity & Science in the Park


Knowledge that is not passed on is wasted

It also is a psychological truism that you only really understand something once you have explained it to someone else. Studying on the MSc Conversion course involves absorbing a lot of knowledge in a short time with not much time to share it with someone else. So, the opportunity to volunteer at these two events was just what I needed to complement my formal teaching.

The Festival of Science and Curiosity took place during the school holidays in the public libraries of Bilborough, Bulwell and Sneinton and was aimed at awakening children’s interest in science. Across from our psychology stall was the University Chemistry department and next to us a lady from Wollaton Hall with stuffed animals. Some serious competition for the attention of the young visitors. But we still managed to intrigue them with a wobbly cushion and prism goggles, which change your field of vision, so that the bean bags ended up to the left of what the kids were aiming for. I decided to make brain hats and neurons from pipe cleaners with the children. The brain hats were a great motivation for me to learn the basic anatomy of the brain in preparation for my advanced neuropsychology module. The children were very interested and surprisingly knowledgeable about the role that the brain plays in all our cognitive functions. A mother of a little boy shared with me that she had correctly spotted the signs of meningitis in her son and so could get him the help that he needed in time. She still wished though that there was more information about this brain degenerative disease out there and suggested that I could work on that.   

At Science in the Park the psychology team set up their various experiments among the dinosaurs in Wollaton Hall. We once again had the prism goggles, as well as a cat ears EEG that thrilled children when the ears were moving to show they were thinking.

In addition, two professors had brought their own experiments that would give the young visitors a taste of what is done in psychology research. Dr Jan Derrfuss measured the participants’ reaction times for spotting different animals on the screen. At first it was just a rabbit and then they had to press different keys to indicate that they had either seen a cat or a dog. My course mate, Ashley Southall enthusiastically encouraged the children to be as fast as they could, so that their nicknames would be displayed on the ‘board of the best’. I worked with Dr Emma Birkett who specialises in language acquisition and had designed an experiment to test the hypotheses that children learn musical skills better when they are imitating others. First, they had to tap along to a beat that they were hearing through headphones. Then we swapped, and I put the headphones on and tapped along to the beat. Instead of hearing the beat directly through the headphones, the child now had to copy me. We then compared their scores and found that they were generally more accurate when they were directly hearing the beat and not when they were copying me. That day I also learned from Dr Emma Birkett that musical abilities tend to predict reading skills which surprised me as I personally had learned to read very quickly whilst always being rather poor at singing. It seems that further research is needed ….

Karen Mersiovsky 

Posted on Monday 30th April 2018

School of Psychology

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The University of Nottingham
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