Psychology: Understanding Ourselves, Understanding Each Other
American Psychological Association, Ontario Science Centre, and ASTC
Studies conducted under the direction of Caryl Marsh by Nina Feldman, Baiba Sube Lennard, Drew Ann Wake, staff of the Boston Children's Museum, and other project staff
Purpose and methods:
In preparation for a major traveling exhibition about psychology, these studies were designed to determine visitor interest in, and knowledge and perceptions of, psychology; their expectations for an exhibition on that topic; as well as their personal recommendations for exhibit content. There was also a focused study, conducted at the Boston Children's Museum, which investigated the activities in which young children and their parents might engage.
In 1984, questionnaires were completed by approximately 300 people, mostly undergraduate students in introductory psychology courses in Chicago and Hartford. In January 1985, 50 people were interviewed at the Maryland Science Center; and, in the spring and summer of 1987, 46 people were also interviewed (most of them high school students enrolled in introductory psychology courses). Fifteen parents completed questionnaires for the focused study at the Boston Children's Museum.
As expected, there was a great deal of confusion between psychology and psychiatry, with people either believing that psychology was an aspect of psychiatry or that psychology referred to talking about problems while "lying on a couch." People were interested in the "hard facts" related to the science of psychology, including how memory works, dream research and analysis, and the effects of drugs and alcohol on the mind. Also cited were an interest in issues of nature/nurture, mob situations, subliminal information, brainwashing, and sleep.
People also had an interest in an exhibition that would relate psychology to personal issues and problems, such as relationships between people, stress, job burn-out, and depression. Some of the questions of interest generated by visitors included: "How are children taught by their families?", "How do people solve problems?", "What makes people fight?", "How can I cope with stress/job burn-out?", and "What are the signs of oncoming depression?"
Children interviewed had little idea of what psychology involved. Those around eight had no idea, 12-year-olds had a vague idea, and those around 14 had a slightly better grasp of the field. (One 14-year-old said, "It's the uses of your mind. I'd like to learn about the brain.")