Below is a short post written by one of the student volunteers who helped out at the Big Bang Fair. It is a nice example of how working with MIRAGE can be fun, not just for those experiencing the strange illusions, but also for those delivering them:
Last March Roger Newport took us four lucky 2nd year Psychology students to London to represent the Psychology Department of the University of Nottingham and the British Psychological Society at the Big Bang Fair 2013. The Big Bang Fair celebrates science by aiming to reach out to and spark interest for science in school children of any age and year. High-profile firms, such as “e.on” and “l’oreal”, university departments and our lovely little, but hugely successful BPS stall provided interactive demonstrations of experiments throughout the whole day over an extended weekend.
Roger Newport introduced his invention, the MIRAGE box, to the fair and we four 2nd years were trained to demonstrate and explain bodily illusions with the help of the machine. While the machines were visually seamless compared to the flashing lights and bright colours other stalls had to offer, our stall increased in popularity solely by word of mouth that the bodily illusions that we demonstrated were “creepy”, “weird” and simply “amazing”. The simple finger stretching illusion, in which a person sees an image in the box of his finger being stretched, while we simultaneously pull at the finger, results in an actual feeling of a stretched finger. Even though one knows that one’s finger is not actually being stretched, one’s brain is fooled into sensing the stretch every single time. While this demonstrated a fun side to psychology, which also reached out to the younger children, we could address the older ones by explaining that this is an example of how our brain’s representation of the body is simply made up of what we see and feel and that, on a more serious note, the finger stretching illusion has been found to temporarily reduce or eliminate pain in patients with arthritis.
It was most rewarding to see the amazement in the children’s eyes and observe them trying to peak into the box to see whether their finger actually had been stretched. Additionally, it was a wonderful experience to be able to share our passion for psychology with the university students of tomorrow, especially sparking interest in those young eager minds to whom psychology was something completely new.
It was an experience, I would not have wanted to miss and a huge thank you has to go to all involved in making this an incredible experience, but especially to Roger Newport for giving us this opportunity and trusting us to adequately represent his invention.