PsychoBus: Untangling the misconceptions about psychology

About five years ago, a few psychology students discussed the fact that there are many misconceptions in the general public about what psychology is. The solution to the problem seemed clear – we need something to untangle these misconceptions by introducing science-based psychology. And so PsychoBus was formed. Since 2014 we have performed hundreds of times in all corners of Estonia, as well as in Germany and the Netherlands.

What exactly is psychology?

Every time we perform with a science show or do a workshop, we always ask people, “What is psychology?” or “What does a psychologist do?” Most often the answer is either “counselling” or “helping”. Indeed, counselling and helping people through psychotherapy is an important part of psychology. But that is not all psychology is. PsychoBus aims to show people the importance of psychology as a science.
In any science, the main questions are “Why?” and “How?” In psychology, scientists look for answers to the questions of why and how our brains work the way they do. Our job is to demonstrate the findings of scientists and do it in a fun and interactive way. Demonstrating how our memory works by planting false memories in our audience’s heads or explaining how our senses cooperate by playing songs with funny misheard lyrics are just a few examples.

Psychology is for all

Knowing how the mind works is important for all, no matter a person’s age or educational background. With that in mind, we perform for small children as well as for company executives. This demands quite a bit of flexibility from us. When performing for a group of doctors, the performance clearly cannot be the same as when performing for kindergarteners.

We therefore personalize our program quite a bit. For example, when performing for the Police and Border Guard Board we presented the effect of change blindness (the inability to detect change) in relation to driving safety. To the Estonian Green Movement, we explained why sometimes people act in ways that harm the environment, even though they truly believe that the environment should be protected. We recently held a workshop for students where we spoke about what the most effective study methods are and how to make the best of them. Nevertheless, the topic usually remains the same – how and why we think, analyse, and perceive the world the way we do.

From dissecting fake brains to virtual reality

In addition to science shows, we let people dissect jelly brains explaining different brain diseases and how they affect behaviour. We also offer people the chance to experiment with small gadgets at fairs. For example, we have them draw or throw a ball to each other while they see the world upside down. With virtual reality, people can be taken to a different world within seconds.
Of course, not every performance goes as planned. It was an extremely windy day one summer when we were presenting virtual reality at Hanseatic Days in Tartu, and one of the visitors had just put on the VR headset when a strong breeze came and blew the tent above our heads away. Everyone started panicking – was anyone harmed? Was the equipment or technology harmed? Eventually, the tent was put back in place and everyone calmed down, when the guy took off the headset and said: “What a great experience!”, all the while having no clue what had just happened around him.

Putting theory into practise

Most of the team members are psychology students and some have already graduated. The best thing about being in the PsychoBus team is being able to learn and work, two in one. When listening to lectures, we are wondering: could I conduct a fun experiment related to this topic I’m learning at the moment? Could we use it in some of our programmes?
It also works the other way around – before introducing a topic to a wider audience, we first have to learn as much as we can about it. For example, when we were planning the jelly brain dissection workshop, we had to learn all the diseases, the exact parts of the brain that get affected, and how the healing process happens in the brain. Taking an exam in neuropsychology after that seemed like a piece of cake.

More info on PsychoBus can be found here.

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