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‘Behavior Mania’ at McPherson College Offers Encounters with Behavioral Science

With “Charades,” optical illusion fun, and a real life “What’s Different” game it might have looked like play time for the high school students who attended “Behavior Mania” at McPherson College Oct. 22.

“Play Time,” in fact, was even the name of one of the experiences MC offered at the 7th annual event. While the primary purpose of “Behavior Mania” was to have fun, the 66 students from seven area high schools also learned more about psychology, sociology and criminal justice at MC. Through entertainment, the hope is students’ interest in behavioral science will be piqued.

Students came from the high schools of Canton-Galva, Southeast of Saline, South Gray (in Montezuma), Norwich, Cunningham, Macksville, and Centre (in Lost Springs).

Dr. Laura Workman Eells, professor of sociology and chair of the behavioral sciences department, said Behavior Mania also had a beneficial side-effect for the college students in the department at MC.

“It’s a community event for the department,” Dr. Workman Eells said. “It’s where all our psychology and sociology majors have the opportunity to work collaboratively.”

As a group, the high school students go from one interactive encounter to another, with each room offering a lesson in behavioral sciences in an interesting way. Dr. Workman Eells said they “shook up” the sessions this year, with many of the encounters new or gone unused for several years.

“We just decided to do something new,” she said.

Among the sessions were “Back-2-Back,” in which students tried to communicate an emotion to someone facing the opposite direction. The trick was they could only make gestures as they touched back-to-back or make non-language sounds.

In “Cultural Charades,” Dr. Ku-Sup Chin, associate professor of sociology, talked about how symbols such as Internet slang and “smileys,” symbols, and hand gestures gained cultural significance as methods of communication. He included one personal story when he failed to use a left-turn signal when driving and another driver made an obscene gesture at him. He wasn’t offended, because he hadn’t encountered it in U.S. culture before.

In that context, MC students then took turns playing “Charades” to act out common sayings – such as “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” or “Dog is a man’s best friend” – for the high school students to guess.

Another session – “So, You Want to Be a Detective?” – had some of the high school students act as “detectives” who left the room. Everyone remaining rearranged small details of the room, and the detectives had to spot the changes when they returned. That it was startlingly difficult revealed just how fragile and unreliable human memory can be.

The day capped off, however, with a startling display of excellent memory, as demonstrated by Dr. Chin. With all the high school students gathered back into one large group, they called out a string of 40 random words. After a few minutes of memorizing, Dr. Chin repeated them back – with only two errors – forward, backward, and with a randomly called out number.