Museum exhibits teach us about all kinds of things -- art, history, science. But an exhibit opening in Fort Worth this weekend focuses on one of the most enticing, engaging subjects of all: you.
"Identity: An Exhibition of You," developed in 2007 by Philadelphia's Franklin Institute, opens Saturday at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. The exhibit is designed to teach you about the brain, genetics, personality -- and it does so by teaching you about yourself.
"Identity," simultaneously scientific and self-indulgent, is designed for kids and teens -- probably best for those 8 and older -- but it has several components that will appeal to adults, too. No matter how old you are, some of the tests and experiments will teach you things you didn't know about your biases and assumptions. (For instance, do you think more like a woman or a man? Take the test -- you might be surprised.)
Every station is interactive. You can dance in front of a screen that will capture your silhouette. You'll answer questions about gender and ethnicity. You'll react to unfamiliar smells and watch your own face age before your eyes. And you'll examine your fingerprints, your height, your hairline and your head to find out more about yourself.
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And when you leave, be prepared for fascinating conversation in the car on the way home. For as many questions as it answers -- about the brain, about genetics, about the ways the world shapes us -- "Identity" inspires even more. It makes you think about yourself in ways you never have before. And who isn't interested in that?
The exhibit is divided into three main areas -- physical, social and emotional -- each exploring a different aspect of identity. Here's a look at some of what you'll find.
Physical identity: Why do I look like I do?
This section involves some mirror-gazing. Learn how your genes determine what you look like and shape who you are, from your height to your hair to your skin color. You will:
Learn about sibling genetics. A computer program lets you explore how siblings almost invariably have different sets of genes -- which might explain why you're already taller than your older sister.
Look at photos of parents and children. Can you match up the kids with the parents, just by looking at their physical traits?
Examine your own physical traits: Can you roll your tongue? Do you have a widow's peak, dimples or a cleft chin? And did you know that these traits are inherited?
Let a computer take a picture of your face, then watch as it ages you. You can alter the image to see how UV exposure, smoking or an unhealthy diet might change your face over time.
Emotional/psychological identity: Why do I think like I do?
Here, you'll look at how your brain -- its structure and chemistry -- and your environment work together to form your personality. Your brain determines the way you think and the way you react to what happens around you -- so the more you understand how it works, the better. In this section you'll:
Take tests to determine your personality. Are you introverted or extroverted? Reactive or resilient? An explorer or a preserver?
With the help of a giant plaster brain attached to an interactive video screen, learn what each part of the brain is responsible for, from hearing and vision to balance and coordination.
At one station, stand beneath giant tubes labeled with personality types -- dreamer, curious, social -- and hear voices tell you what it's like to have those traits. Each time, you can measure their words against your own experience: Is this me, or is that more like me?
Watch how five different people react to getting stuck on a subway train. As you follow their thoughts, you see how different personalities respond to the unexpected -- and you'll see how those responses engage different portions of the brain.
Social identity: How do others affect who I am?
In this part of the exhibit, you'll see how the world around you can shape your identity. Culture, ethnicity, social conditioning, the people we know -- everything can have an impact on who we are and how we see the world. Here, you'll:
Watch a series of videos of a man who's apologizing for being late. You'll see how our behavior, our body language and our vocabulary changes depending on our audience, whether we're talking to a boss, a parent or a good friend.
Find your skin tone on a wheel of colors, then use a lighted map to see where in the world people with your skin tone appear.
Take a couple of gender quizzes that reveal how parents, friends and the culture shape our ideas about masculine and feminine behavior from an early age. (One test invites you to describe babies who are dressed in certain ways. This one may shock you with the bias it reveals.)
Watch a video of people talking about how their ethnicity influences the way they live and the friends and partners they choose. (This one takes some focus, but it's fascinating and well worth the time it requires.)
Alyson Ward, 817-390-7988