Tag Archives: reaction

The thrill of the audience response

My name is Paul. I’m a reaction junkie.

Like many science communicators who present demonstrations, I admit to getting a thrill from being able to provoke and orchestrate extreme emotional reactions from my audiences about my subject. The problem is, however, that like any addict, I am driven to want a larger and larger fix. The buzz is intoxicating.

This drive can unconsciously fool us into only valuing the most visible and audible emotional responses from the audience.

Take chemistry shows, for example. Chemistry demos are the shock jocks of the science demonstration airwaves. They viscerally grab attention with their flashes and bangs, but most don’t lead to any meaningful insight into the underlying concepts. Chemistry demos are bewitching to a reaction junkie.

The irony is that I genuinely believe that some of the most powerful audience reactions to live science demonstrations can be the least obvious – e.g. curiosity, wonder, and an intellectual joy of understanding. I’ve spent years of my life researching just this conviction. Yet the overt reaction drug still pulls. That is its danger.

They say admitting it is the first step to overcoming the addiction.

I am a reaction junkie.

But I’m trying to do something about it.