Visitors come face-to-face with fear at OMSI

What makes your heart race, your knees buckle, and your body shake? Take a look at this, and see why thousands of adults and kids have already scared themselves silly – while, at the same time, discovering the science of fear – at a new, shocking exhibit …

OMSI’s Executive Director, Nancy Stueber, welcomes guests to the opening of “SCREAM! Featuring Goose Bumps! The Science of Fear”.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Opened just in time for Halloween, a different kind of “haunted house” is still running at Southeast Portland’s Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI).

It’s not about spooks, witches, or goblins, though. “SCREAM! Featuring Goose Bumps! The Science of Fear is title of their latest featured exhibit we’ve told you about in our Community Calendar.

“This exhibit provides a great time, because people love to be scared,” confided OMSI spokesman Lee Dawson at the opening. “And, you’ll go home with a better understanding of your fears. More importantly, you’ll probably learn that many of those fears are unfounded.”

OMSI educator Margaret Hill gets ready to see if guest Clifford Jones will flinch, when the guillotine’s blade drops.

Learn to face your fears
The new OMSI exhibit was chosen, Dawson explained, because fear is a universal emotion. “Everybody, in every culture, experiences fear. This exhibit is a good – and safe – way to dig a little deeper into an emotion that we sometimes take for granted.”

The “Fear Challenge Course” lets visitors face four common fears:

  • Animals – sticking hands in a terrarium filled with creepy crawlies;
  • Electric shock – waiting in nervous anticipation of getting zapped by a bolt of electricity;
  • Loud noises – remaining calm in a loud noise anticipation room; and,
  • Falling – riding a free-fall simulator.

Informational panels offer scientific insight into these particular fears, and human reactions to them.

We watched some adventurous visitors test their fear responses by putting their heads through the “business end” of a life-size re-creation of a guillotine. Yes, the heavy metal blade drops with a devastating “thud”. (This explores “Fear of the French Revolution”!)

SE Portland residents Barbara and Aaron Lance wait, anticipating a jolt of electricity.

Other exhibits include:

  • Faces of Emotion – see facial expressions of fear, and other emotions universal in humans;
  • Fear in the Wild – play a put-yourself-in-the-picture immersive video game, and decide how to respond to a tiger’s attack: Freeze, fight or run;
  • Fear and Society – view a short film and various exhibit displays on how our collective fears are represented and transmitted through media and pop culture;
  • Coping with Fear – Discover what fears are common at different stages in life, and learn about ways to help children move past their fears.

“Don’t be afraid!” Dawson exclaimed. “Come experience fear in a safe environment, and discover the science behind your physical and emotional responses.”

Lily Jones faces her fear of free-falling backwards in one of the more active exhibits you’ll find.

The exhibit – open at no extra cost, other than the usual museum admission fee – runs through January at OMSI. They’re located on the Willamette east bank, just north of the Ross Island Bridge, at 1945 SE Water Avenue. For general information, call (503) 797-4000 – or visit their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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