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century of science theme

The Science of Us

Us humans, we’re pretty complex creatures.

The things we do, the things we say, the way we are, all of these things come together in strange, magnificent, and - at times - contradicting ways. How we think and why we do the things we do are not easy questions to answer, but that hasn’t stopped some of the brightest minds from psychology, anthropology, and economics from trying.

The “science of us” – essentially, how we think and why we do what we do – has undergone many evolutions. Initially focused on some pretty wacky – and unethical! - psychological experiments, the “science of us” was limited to Western thoughts, ideas, and momentary snapshots of people’s minds and behaviors. In the late 1990s, the “science of us” moved into a more holistic direction.

No longer limited to Western-centric ideas developed by white men, researchers started to consider how non-Western cultures think and behave. They also started to think about mind and behavior on life-long scales, tracking mental health in decades-long experiments.

century of science theme

The Science of Us

This theme explores the past one hundred years of us making sense of, well, us.

Scientists are still working toward a theory of the mind that connects everyone together, but one thing that rings true across the globe is that the human spirit always finds ways to thrive.

In 2014, long-term studies in the US, Switzerland, and New Zealand tracked children mental health into adulthood. Strikingly, almost every single person in those studies struggled with mental health at some point in their lives.

Mental health benefits of relaxation and laughter are one focus of this exhibit.

We all have hard days. And, as these studies show, we all also have hard times in our lives. It’s something that links us all together as human beings, while also showing that the breadth of human experience is wide. How someone, or even some cultures, respond to life events, isn’t necessarily what someone else on the other side of the globe might do. 

In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example of different cultures responding differently to the same threat. In the US, conversations centered on how to continue living “normal life” despite the virus, while conversations in other countries, like New Zealand, focused on how to collectively prioritize ending the virus’s spread. 

New Zealand employed stringent lockdown measures which has helped the island keep viral cases under 16,000 for the whole of the pandemic. In contrast, the US has struggled to keep case counts down, reaching more than 70 million cases.

How have humans handled living through this and past pandemics?