One of my favourite things about working with kids is the fantastic questions they ask.
Almost every time I do a science show for schools I get asked something brand new, that I have never thought about before! Not only does it give me the chance to share how incredible our amazing brains are, but it really keeps me on my toes, and makes me think about the world in a different way.
Sometimes, kids’ questions on the brain have definite answers. For example, one audience member asked ‘why do you get dizzy?’, something scientists understand pretty well - so I answered their question in this Curiosity Corner video.
You can see lots more Curiosity Corner Videos here
Other times, it’s a question without a definite answer, but our expert presenters can draw on their wealth of knowledge about brain research to suggest some ideas. For example, in our show exploring the science of the senses, That’s Non-Sense, we use a pair of prism goggles to change your vision so everything looks like it is slightly to the side of where it actually is. We show, on stage, that your brain can adapt to this change, and watch as the volunteer becomes better at simple tasks over the course of a few minutes.
After one performance, I was
asked what would happen if you wore the prism goggles for years. This isn’t an experiment that has been done, for obvious ethical & logistical reasons, but there have been smaller-scale versions, going back as far as the 1800s! Scientists asked people to wear goggles that were similar to ours, but more dramatic- they actually flipped the world upside down. The participants wore them for several days, and found that during that time, they learned to carry out everyday activities, from pouring a cup of tea to riding a bike. There is some debate about whether participants actually began to see the world as ‘right side up’ again, with some people reporting they did, and others saying they still felt like they were walking on the ceiling, but they certainly became able to navigate the world successfully.
We also know that after taking goggles like this off, our brains take a while to go back to normal. In the show, our volunteers tend to miss a cross when trying to point to it immediately after taking the goggles off. This is known as an ‘aftereffect’. Studies have shown that in order to adapt to the goggles, you need to interact with the world (in our case, pointing to the cross). The more times you do this wearing the goggles, the longer the aftereffect lasts.
So it’s logical to think that if you wore them for years, you would get very used to the goggles, and it might take you a while to unlearn the changes and get around normally when you took them off! I would guess that it would also depend on how long you had been alive and not wearing them. For example, a 30-year-old who had been wearing them for 10 years would have had 20 years of the world being ‘normal’ first, so might find it easier to go back to that than an 11 year old, who only had 1 year of normal vision. Although then there are also issues of brain plasticity, with children’s brains changing more quickly, which might affect things too! For very good reasons, this exact experiment will probably never be done, but I love the way seemingly simple questions on the brain can send you off in different directions, the more you think about them. And that’s why we are passionate about including Q&A in our shows, to inspire and encourage children’s curiosity and nurture their love for science.
What’s the best science question you’ve ever been asked in class? Was there one that really made you think? We’d love to hear it. And don’t forget, if your students have any questions about the brain, we are always happy to answer them. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet @braintasticSci with #CuriosityCorner.