A History Of Studying The Brain In Mind Maps At Science Museum

Medical science has advanced in all areas over the last 400 years and though neuroscience and psychology have come a long way, they are both fields where much remains to be proven and discovered. This exhibition charts the journey of scientific progress of studying the brain, the key breakthroughs and the treatment of mental health conditions.

It’s a chronological journey for the most part, and starts off with fascinating artefacts, like a 17th century dissection table from Padua with all human nerves laid out on it, and continues through to a modern day positron emission tomography (PET) scanner.

The exhibition charts discoveries such as the realisation that electricity can control nervous movements, which led to radical treatments including ‘recharging’ the nerves with mild electric shocks and the treatment of diseases from eczema to obesity using electric currents.

It’s surprising how many therapies from a century ago still exist today, with proponents and detractors remaining divided. Magnetic bracelets from the 1900s are very similar to those sold today and the merits and downsides of electro-convulsive therapy continue to be debated.

The latter half of the exhibition strays into more familiar territory with discussions on the theories of Freud, the advent of drugs such as Prozac and the rise in behavioural therapy for improving mental health. The show ends with hints at future research and discoveries to be made.

The best items here capture the imagination – see the century-old dead frog used to demonstrate the impact of electricity on the nerves, to the flashing lenticular artwork of Susan Aldworth.

This is an engaging historical record, especially with regards to the older theories around how the brain and nervous system work. It packs a lot of information into a small display without feeling too heavy. It’s a fascinating exhibition with impressive artefacts offering a glimpse into the workings of the mind.

Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology is on at Science Museum until 12 August 2014. Admission to the exhibition is free.

Also still on at the Science Museum are Collider and a display on 3D printing.

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