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Tour the New National Museum of Psychology at University of Akron

As you step inside the National Museum of Psychology at the University of Akron, large video screens flash images of Wonder Woman and Coca-Cola (maybe not the first things you think of when it comes to psychology).

“The theme is psychology is all around us. So for example, you’ll see Coca-Cola, well, psychologists were involved in research on the effects of caffeine in Coca Cola in the early 20 th century,” said David Baker, executive director of Akron’s Cummings Center for the History of Psychology.

And as for Wonder Woman?

“I think people will be surprised to learn that Wonder Woman was developed by a psychologist,” he said.

The center has an extensive archive of documents, videos and artifacts from psychologists and psychological organizations.  

It has long been a goal to share some of those materials with the public, Baker said.

“When people would deposit their personal papers with the archives, they would often say to us, “well I have laboratory equipment, would you be interested in that?’” Baker said. “Of course, the answer was, ‘yes.’”

Visitors will find everything from postcards of picturesque asylums across the country to Sigmund Freud’s home movies at the museum, which opened this week.

The collection also includes controversial equipment, including a Utica crib, which is a locked wooden cage where patients were expected to lie down inside to rest in the 1800s.

“I think it’s very easy to look at a piece like this and think it’s just sort of a horrendous torture device,” said Cathy Faye, assistant director at the center. “At the time it was believed that having patients in a position of laying down created more blood flow to the brain, and in turn blood flow to the brain was restorative. It actually was believed to help people get better.”

Imagery in newspapers outraged the public and use of the cribs fell out of practice, Faye said.

A few steps away in the museum, there is a much more comfortable setting where visitors can recline for some talk therapy in a replica of Sigmund Freud’s office.

“We’re encouraging people to come in, lay down on the coach, and take a selfie,” Faye said.

In addition to articles and artifacts throughout the gallery, visitors can also take short tests based off those administered to recruits in World War I and immigrants at Ellis Island.

The Knox Cube Imitation Test was one of the tests used at Ellis Island, and it is similar to the game “Simon Says.”

“We’ve had a few visitors do this this test, and what they talk about is how anxious they feel when doing this,” she said.

The center enlisted designers behind exhibits at the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame to make the stories of psychological experiments resonate with the public.

 “We managed to put a combination of things together so that you learn in different ways, if you’re not going to read you can learn by doing an interactive,” said Dennis Barrie, one of the designers.

If that gets you thinking, then the museum has achieved its objective.

“What I’m hoping is that visitors will… learn more about psychology and an appreciation of how much psychology is a part of everyday life,” Baker said.

The National Museum of Pychology is located at 73 S. College St. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thursdays. 

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.