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Phil Loring, BPS Curator of
Psychology, Science Museum
Before taking up his post in 2009, Phil was in the doctoral program in the history of science at Harvard University. He specialises in the history and anthropology of the mind sciences. He is currently completing a book based on the Mind Maps exhibition.
Images courtesy of the Science Museum

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Psychology at the Science Museum

As part of its ongoing commitment to promoting public engagement with psychology and its history, the British Psychological Society has had a long and fruitful relationship with the Science Museum in London. The Society sponsored a BPS research associate, Geoff Bunn, at the Museum from 1999 to 2002, and a full-time BPS Curator of Psychology, Phil Loring, from 2009 to 2014. Their work helped to significantly strengthen the Museum’s psychology collections, and also to make those collections more visible and accessible.

Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology

In December 2013 this major BPS-supported temporary exhibition opened. It explores the way our understanding of human psychology has evolved since the 1700s. Tracing the links between minds and nerves, it brings together science, medicine and human stories through an array of over 160 objects never before seen on public display. The exhibition will run until 19 October 2014.

More details and an introductory video

The exhibition as received numerous positive reviews, including the following:

Other exhibitions

Mind Your Head

The Museum has one permanent exhibition dedicated to psychology: ‘Mind Your Head’, on the fourth floor, opened in 2001 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the BPS. However, objects of interest to psychology can be found throughout the Museum, from the cybernetic tortoise in ‘Making the Modern World’ on the ground floor to alms boxes from Bedlam in the fifth-floor History of Medicine Gallery.

‘Who am I?’

The ‘Who am I?’ gallery on the 1st floor of the Museum’s Wellcome Wing focuses on the way that contemporary neuroscience and genetics are changing our understanding of ourselves. It includes display cases and interactive exhibits on topics of great interest to psychologists and students of psychology: dreaming, intelligence, face recognition and many others. The whole gallery was most recently updated in 2010, and it includes one case which is updated six times a year.

‘Brought to Life’

The Museum's acclaimed web portal for the history of medicine, 'Brought to Life'. The enlarged site includes a major section on the history of Mental Health and Illness authored by BPS Curator Phil Loring. It includes a general introduction plus four short historical essays on asylums, nervousness, trauma, and women. Each essay is hyperlinked to dozens of shorter passages on significant people and technologies, ranging from King George III (and his hair) to SSRIs. The section also features photographs and descriptions of almost 200 objects from the Museum’s psychology and psychiatry collections, most of which have never before been exhibited. These are fully searchable, and the high-quality photographs are freely downloadable for personal, non-commercial use, teaching and research.
The section also features a special interactive ‘game’ created by the BPS Curator in collaboration with a web designer. This interactive allows users to explore changes in psychiatric testing and diagnosis via three re-animated tests from the museum's collection.



On the last Wednesday of every month, at Lates, the Museum opens until 10pm, for adults only. It provides an excellent opportunity for curators to show off objects that are not usually on display.

At past Lates, the BPS Curator has presented objects ranging from medical vibrators (for treating hysteria) to ECT machines. A conversation with the Curator about historical IQ tests, recorded live at the Lates in May 2010 was featured on the Guardian’s ‘Science Weekly’ podcast. The IQ bit begins about 22 minutes in. (The podcast also features psychologist Kevin Dutton talking about persuasion.)

Dana Centre

In 2012 and 2014 the BPS sponsored three special evening events for curious adults at the Science Museum’s Dana Centre. The first, ‘Casino IQ’, used a casino-night format to bring audience members inside the history of IQ testing. Audience members put on conservation gloves and tried out actual subtests from historical IQ tests such as Stoelting form-boards, the original Stanford-Binet test, the original Weschler, and the first British Ability Scales.

The second, called ‘The Next Big Thing: Psychology’, invited seven university-based psychologists at various stages in their career, from PhD student to senior scholar, to promote their own research as the next big thing. Each researcher discussed his or her own work in about five minutes, with small groups of visitors around a cafĂ© table. After the psychologists had rotated around to all the tables in the room (like speed-dating), the audience’s top three favourites were then invited to pitch their work in one minute. The winner: Daniel Frings from London South Bank University, for his work on group identity in addicts. Many thanks to him and the other brave participants:
  • Johanna Spiers, Birkbeck University
  • Katie Slocombe, University of York
  • Keon West, Goldsmiths, University of London
  • Sonja Carmichael, City University London
  • Tom Manly, Medical Research Council
  • Vivien Ainley, Royal Holloway, University of London

The third event, ‘Who’s Driving Brain Research?’. brought together four scientists working across the spectrum from single neurons to social behaviour. Each made a 10-minute presentation on the future of brain research, followed by an open Q&A with the audience. The participants were:
  • Bhismadev Chakrabarti, Associate Professor in the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading
  • Catherine Loveday, Principal Lecturer, Department of Psychology, Westminster University
  • Kate Jeffery, Professor of Behavioural Neuroscience and Director of the Institute of Behavioural Neuroscience, University College London
  • Michael Hausser, Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow and Professor of Neuroscience, University College London

A short film showing highlights of the event will be available on YouTube.


Psychology items from the Science Museum’s collections have been featured on a number of broadcast, print, and online publications. Highlights include:
  • BBC Radio 4, In Search of Ourselves: The Story of Psychology (25-part series airing from April 2014), BBC Radio 4, All in the Mind, 10 December 2013
  • Cosmopolitan magazine, history of vibrators, October 2012
  • BBC TV, The One Show, history of IQ tests, 11 September 2012
  • Time Out London, The Sex Issue, 9 November 2009

Growing the psychology collections

At present the Science Museum holds an unrivalled collection of tests of mental and manual ability. Many of these come from the BPS’s former library of psychological tests, others from psychological clinics and centres such as the Maudsley Hospital. It also has an extensive collection of artefacts representing mental health care in the UK. Many of these were acquired when mental hospitals closed in the 1980s and 1990s under ‘Care in the Community’.

Further, it has also collected a variety of experimental apparatus from university psychology departments around the UK, including the laboratory of pioneering early 20th-century psychologist (and former BPS President) Beatrice Edgell of Bedford College, London. This material was kept safe by the BPS for many years before being donated to the Science Museum.

The Museum is always looking to acquire new objects to build on the strengths of its collection. Not all proposed donations can be accepted, but if you have something that may potentially be of interest, you can find more information here:

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