Dr. Joseph Benz
Department of psychology professor, 308.865.8238

Were students running through a maze timed by a rat last week part of a science fiction movie or the fourth biennial Psychology Fair at the University of Nebraska at Kearney?

While the rat was actually a UNK student in a costume, the human maze was a big hit at the Psychology Fair, which took place in Copeland Hall and the Nebraskan Student Union.

The Psychology Fair had more than 500 registered participants and 31 schools attended the event.

Dr. Joseph Benz, UNK professor of psychology and coordinator of the fair, said the Psychology Fair was created in response to an American Psychological Association (APA) initiative to “give psychology a way.” He said the aim of the APA effort was to acquaint citizens with psychological principles.

Dr. Benz said the Psychology Fair exposes high school students to experiments and concepts that they may not be able to learn or experience in a high school psychology course.

Rick Rath, a psychology teacher at Clay Center  High School, agreed that the Psychology Fair presents students with new ideas and theories that they are not always able to get in a high school class.

Although some of the students were already familiar with the principles featured in the demonstrations, they appeared to be appreciative of the hands-on experience.

“I think this is really interesting, because most of this stuff we learned in class, and I think that it’s better that we can kind of know what it is in real life,” said Anne Morse, a student at Sargent  High School.

Candace Simmons of Sargent , said the Psychology Fair was helpful in explaining concepts that will relate to her chosen field of study, which is counseling. Dr. Benz said the Psychology Fair also allows UNK psychology students to understand their course material better by constructing demonstrations for the high school participants to view.

 Dr. Krista Forrest, UNK associate professor of psychology, said UNK psychology students benefit from teaching ideas to high school attendees at the Psychology Fair.

“What’s nice [about the Psychology Fair] is it gives students who are psychology majors an opportunity to teach younger kids what it is they are covering here. The whole concept is to be able to give psychology a way, and it gives older students here at UNK an opportunity to talk about what they are studying to with younger kids,” Dr. Forrest said.

Heather Myer, a UNK senior from Broken Bow, agreed with Dr. Forrest’s notion that the Psychology Fair helps high school students learn about what psychology majors study in college.

“A lot of people have different outlooks on what psychology is, and I think that if they see a lot of these exhibits, they kind of know what we’re doing here,” Myer said.

Demonstrations and exhibits for the Psychology Fair are constructed by UNK students and psychology department faculty members. Dr. Benz said that about half the exhibits are created by students, which usually means 50 percent of the Psychology Fair is new material.

Besides the human maze, other featured activities at the Psychology Fair included a polygraph test, jury deliberation and a demonstration simulating a police interrogation.

Dr. Benz said the prism goggles and beer goggles were a hit this year. The prism goggles shift one’s view 30 degrees, which makes coordination a challenge, and the beer goggles model the visual effects of excessive alcohol consumption.

Another exhibit, the visual cliff demonstration, was aided by one-year-old Dylan Coates. Katie Andrews, a UNK junior from Arapahoe  and co-supervisor of the demonstration, said the point of the exhibit was to display how infants, when first learning to crawl, haven’t learned depth perception yet. So, the tikes crawl right across a Plexiglas surface, even though it appears there is a hole. Later, when infants learn to perceive depth, they feel more afraid and aren’t willing to crawl across the Plexiglas.

Dr. Benz said that after the Psychology Fair concludes, sponsors for the high school students are given evaluations to complete and return. He said the comments and suggestions received from the evaluations dictate what changes are made to the next Psychology Fair.

Jeffrey Konkoleski, psychology teacher for Ainsworth  High School, may possibly request to keep the format exactly the same. He said a lot of the areas covered in the demonstrations were items that he was planning to teach the following week.

“The fair has exceeded my expectations. I’m really happy with the fair and would recommend it to any high school psychology teacher,” Konkoleski said.
Students attending the fair were from high schools in the following communities:     

Broken  Bow
Clay Center
Elm Creek
Kearney Catholic
Kearney High
Lincoln East
McPherson County
North Platte
Omaha Northwest
Perkins County
Wood River Rural