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Understanding what it means to be human

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Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs, explains how the Museum is advancing research with its Live Science programme for scientists.

Can playing video games change you?

With the help of visitors to the Science Museum, researchers from University College London are trying to answer this question.

The first visitors dropped in for experiments in our Who Am I? gallery earlier this month and the project will run until December 18th, with the help of 10 researchers led by PhD student Javier Elkin of UCL.

The experiments are part of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience Pocket Smile project which explores how we can change our mood.

Pocket Smile is an iOS app that shows the user smiling faces throughout the day and tracks their mood changes with the help of questionnaires.

For more than five years, scientists have used Museum visitors for their research as part of the Science Museum’s Live Science programme. “The museum is always looking for new partners for this kind of research – our latest request for applications from scientists closes in December,” comments Lottie Dodwell, Assistant Content Developer.

While not strictly citizen science, Live Science does offer a way for the Museum to engage some of its 3.3 million annual visitors with scientists who want to further understanding of the human body and mind.

The value of this effort is underlined by the papers have been published in academic journals based on Live Science projects, for instance on self recognition and the way groups behave and crowd behaviour, explored during our ZombieLab Lates event.

In another experiment for our Cravings exhibition, launched with the help of super chef Heston Blumenthal, along with chef Charles Michel, we found out how rotating plates can make your food taste better.

Since 2010 around 40,000 visitors have taken part in 33 projects, covering a wide range of subjects. Here are some of the scientists who have run Live Science projects at the Museum:

John Wann, Royal Holloway, University of London, studied how well visitors judged trafficMichelle Phillips of the University of Cambridge investigated how our brains respond to music; Chris Abela of Great Ormond Street Hospital recorded face shapes for plastic surgeons; Tim Holmes of Royal Holloway University of London  tracked eye movements to see how they correlate  with our preferences; Isabelle Mareschal of Queen Mary University of London and Alan Johnston of University College London explored how long we can comfortably maintain eye contact with another person;  Sarah Jayne Blakemore and Lisa Knoll of the University College London studied why some age groups are more likely to take risks than others; Edward Codling of the University of Essex explored how people might respond to an evacuation  (and got insights into cattle too); Leigh Gibson, University of Roehampton studied overindulgence; Lucy Foulkes of University College London asked the simple question, How social am I?; and Sian Jones of Goldsmiths University studied play and imagination in children.

Written by Roger Highfield

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