Falling from a high place. Snakes. Spiders. Roaches. Sudden, loud noises. Enclosed spaces. Nighttime. A podium meant for you, in front of a large audience.
If your palms are damp, your heart rate a little faster and you’re a little jittery after reading the above, you know a little about the subject of the Mayborn Museum’s new touring exhibit, “Goose Bumps! The Science of Fear,” which opens a four-month run Saturday.
The exhibit, created by the California Science Center, explains the body’s response to threats and how that plays out in every day life. Though a lot of fear can paralyze or traumatize, a tiny bit to get the pulse moving or trigger a brief squirt of adrenaline has a certain appeal — as producers of horror movies and creators of amusement park thrill rides know well.
There’s a bit in “Goose Bumps,” too. A Fear Challenge offers exhibit visitors a chance to test their reactions to four common fears: animals, electric shock, loud noises and falling. In the Fear of Animals challenge, participants stick their hands in a box with something that may or may not feel like the live snake, tarantula or hissing cockroaches they see above their hands in tabletop containers.
The Fear of Electric Shock challenge shocks those who take part, though gently (it’s comparable to a mild shock of static electricity), and those listening to a spooky soundtrack find a sudden loud noise may make them jump — the startle effect — in the Loud Noise challenge.
In the Fear of Falling demonstration, participants are strapped to a vertical board that swings backward to the horizontal, although a pneumatic cushion makes the fall a somewhat controlled one.
Alexandra Chapa, 19, a Baylor University student working nearby in the Mayborn Museum gift shop, agreed to take the fall and said afterward the scariest part was the anticipation.
“You’re lingering there and don’t know when you’re going to fall,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun, though.”
Rebecca Nall, the Mayborn’s changing exhibits manager, said the mild fear factor in many of the exhibit’s interactives likely will prove entertaining.
“It’s fun, but not scary,” she said of “Goose Bumps.” “Thrill seekers and scaredy cats alike will learn from this.”
The touring exhibit examines how the brain, specifically a part called the amygdala, turns sensory alerts — movement, sound and smell — into bodily reflexes meant to help flee or fight the threat.
An interactive illustration on animals’ fight or flight response inserts a participant’s silhouette into an oversized video image containing a tree bearing fruit with a prowling leopard underneath. When the person moves to pick the virtual fruit, his or her movement draws the leopard’s attention and the silhouette changes color. If the person doesn’t freeze in place fast enough, the video leopard pounces and ends the game.
Volunteers fuel a live demonstration of fear conditioning where participants connected to a heart rate monitor watch as a flashing light precedes a loud noise. As the demonstration proceeds, the volunteer’s heart rate often jumps once the light flashes, even if the sound doesn’t follow.
Another hands-on activity breaks down some of the reasons why scary movies work. Players at a video monitor can insert ominous music and startling sound effects into otherwise innocuous video loops of a family picnicking and spending time in a living room, turning them into forbidding footage of something sinister — if undefined.
“Goose Bumps” also offers suggestions on dealing with anxieties and fears, right before a large photo of a school-age audience brings some visitors face-to-face with a fear that trumps spiders, snakes and falling: speaking before a crowd.
The Mayborn will offer a reduced admission price of $5 through Memorial Day weekend.
This summer also will feature a Wednesday series of live demonstrations and activities from 1 to 3 p.m. June 19, July 17 and Aug. 14.