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McPherson College's 'Behavior Mania' Teaches About Psychology, Sociology With Entertainment

posted Nov 02, 2012 in ACADEMICS

Watch a group of students play with a "parachute," enjoy a variation on the game Telephone, or try to spot the liars in a round of "To Tell the Truth," and one would hardly guess they were learning.

But that was exactly the purpose of the fourth annual "Behavior Mania" event at McPherson College on Thursday, Nov. 1 – to help high school students learn about the behavioral sciences of psychology, sociology and criminal science… and to have a blast doing it.

"All the demonstrations are taking some basic concept in psychology or sociology and putting some fun activity with it to make it relevant and concrete," said Dr. Bryan Midgley, associate professor of psychology. "What we do here is 90 percent entertainment and 10 percent education."

The annual event began with about 50 students, but quadrupled a year later with more than 200. This year, 237 students attended the event from nine area high schools – Belle Plaine High School, Center High School in Wichita, Cheney High School, Kingman High School, Macksville High School, Norwich High School, Salina Central High School, South Gray High School and Wichita High School East.

The event – this year with the theme "Just Another Manic Morning" – also involves every behavioral science major at McPherson College, who help to guide the groups of high school students to five of 10 available demonstrations during the day as well as helping to lead those demonstrations.

"Not only is it good to get high school students on campus, it's great to bring the department together," Dr. Midgley said. "No other event gets so many of our majors involved."

One of the more intriguingly named demonstrations – "That's what she said" – was an experiment in communicating a story and seeing what details get lost and changed. In one session, more than half of the details were lost and an invented detail was introduced as six students communicated the details of a car accident from one to the next.

"What it says is we don't listen very well," said Dr. Laura Workman Eells, associate professor of sociology. "And when we don't have information, we add in details to have it make sense."

Another session – "Do You Trust Your Neighbor?" – started with one MC student verbally guiding another blindfolded MC student through a simulated "electric fence" – two sticks held at different levels. A high school student volunteer then had the same thing done with him – only the sticks were removed. The trickery was a demonstration of the violation of social trust and how that can undermine a democratic society.

Tristram Nguyen, a junior at Wichita East, happened to be the student who was directed around obstacles that weren't there. He said he enjoyed discovering ways to apply what he read in the textbook.

"We learn more practical things in life," he said. "You don't really learn this kind of things in classroom settings."

One of the more active events was "We are Having a Ball," where students worked in teams to move balls around a tarp full of holes without having them fall through. It was a demonstration of teamwork, communication and how to handle goals and obstacles in life.

Ryan Camenzind, a senior at Wichita East, proved to be one of the leaders in his group which successfully moved seven balls of different sizes around their tarp.

"It's really great to have this opportunity," he said. "This is the kind of stuff we learn in class, but to get it from a different point of view is helpful."

Mason Hewitt, a McPherson College senior from Norwich, Kan., gave some advice to the students in the activity after one of them said a lesson they learned was to pick up a dropped ball and keep on going.

"Set your goals and set your goals high," he said. "You've got nothing to lose."

Hewitt has been a part of McPherson College's Behavior Mania since the first one when he was a freshman. He has had the opportunity to see it grow and develop from modest beginnings to the huge participation of today. He said the event helps show what the college has to offer.

"I just like the atmosphere because I think it's good for the high school students and college students to interact with each other," he said. "I think it's good for high school students to see that college can be fun and the sort of things we do."

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