Face your fears at Exploration Place exhibit

One of the fear challenges in “Goose Bumps” is falling backward.
One of the fear challenges in “Goose Bumps” is falling backward. Courtesy photo

You can feel shocks, hear shots, and get strapped into a contraption that drops you backwards in an exhibition that opens Saturday at Exploration Place. It’s called “Goose Bumps” and is supposed to help you face some of your fears.

“WARNING!! YOU WILL FALL!” a sign underlines as you prepare to face that particular fear — an innate one. One thing you experience in the exhibition is that the anticipation of what’s going to happen to you is often worse than the reality. The landing, in this case, is quite soft.

Perhaps scarier, your face is videotaped in the fear-of-falling exhibit so you can see how your expression changes as you fall. (The playback is not always immediate, so expect waits to get strapped in and then another wait to see yourself. Be aware that whoever else attends the exhibit may see your video as well.)

“The ones who do it once are ready to do it again,” Randy Tirazona, exhibit electronics technician, said of taking the fall. Except the ones who are really scared of falling. Once is enough for them.

The traveling exhibition, developed by the California Science Center, is about the science of fear. Not only does it make you face some fears, it helps you understand why you get scared, how your body responds, and how you can cope. It will run from Saturday through Sept. 7 and is included in Exploration Place admission.

As part of the opening weekend, on Saturday and Sunday, Exploration Place will have a Fearbuster Challenge that will allow people to do some fun things to help overcome some fears: go up in a Westar cherry-picker (weather permitting), learn some dance steps and become part of a flash mob, meet a therapy dog from the Kansas Humane Society, be dropped into a dunk tank, eat some worm larva (brand name Larvets, in flavors including cheddar cheese).

People can pick up “a courage card” and, if they take all the challenges presented, get a prize and coupons from the Explore Store.

Also on hand will be a snake, a tarantula and hissing cockroaches.

Lots of fears are addressed in the exhibition — innate ones, learned ones, overblown ones. If you don’t think you’re afraid of anything, you may come up with some ideas here. In fact, you can almost hear Lucy van Pelt start to click the off all the possible phobias.

For instance, “I didn’t know there was a fear of gold,” Tirazona said. It’s called aurophobia. Perhaps you have mysophobia — fear of germs. Tirazona is a very jolly man, full of laughter, so you know there’s actually nothing to fear in the exhibition — unless maybe you fear clowns. There’s a big picture of a nice smiling one up on the wall of phobias, and real clowns will be on hand this weekend, putting on their makeup so people can see the transformation.

“They use geometry, and that helps convey whether the clown’s face is pleasant or unpleasant,” Christina Bluml of Exploration Place said.

It could be argued that aversion or violence are more to the point than fear in parts of the experience, such as in eating the worm larva or watching a clip of a prey animal fight for its life against a predator.

A video, running about seven minutes, is said to review fear through history, entertainment and culture, mixing together such catastrophes, historical events, social upheavals and movies as communism, Vietnam, the civil rights movement, Watergate, “Jurassic Park” and 9/11. A possessed Linda Blair can be seen for several seconds thrusting out her tongue in a clip from “The Exorcist.”

Another exhibit shows examples of “moral panics” — collective fears that grow out of proportion to actual threats, and how those are spread.

But there are real threats. And real reasons to be afraid. One of the main things the exhibition teaches is that fear is not necessarily bad, Bluml said. There’s a reason your heart accelerates, your palms sweat and your knees knock when you are confronted with a situation that feels threatening.

“Your body is telling you to do something to help yourself to safety,” Bluml said.

The exhibit also helps you cope with fears, she said. “You may not conquer them but be able to deal with them in a constructive way.”

“Knowing that other people are afraid of things too helps you cope,” Bluml said.

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @anniecalovich.

If you go

Goose Bumps: The Science of Fear

What: Traveling exhibition developed by the California Science Center

When: Saturday through Sept. 7. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun.

Where: Exploration Place, 300 N. McLean Blvd.

How much: Included in admission: $9.50 ages 12 to 64, $8 ages 65 and up, $6 ages 3 to 11; free for children 2 and under

Information: 316-660-0600, exploration.org