In The Name Of Science: The Lutz Experiment

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Jason Anfinsen/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

As an undergrad at Northwestern I was willing to do just about anything for some extra cash. OK, not anything. But, I did offer myself up as a lab rat for the occasional psychology experiment. A handful of these self-sacrificial moments were required in order to pass Introduction to Psychology. But, even after the class ended, I willingly took on the role of guinea pig. Whether it was electrodes stuck to my scalp, or an hour-long stint in a claustrophobia-inducing MRI, I volunteered in the name of science…and money.

So, I was intrigued to learn that John Lutz, of NBC’s “30 Rock”, has teamed up with Stanford University assistant professor of psychology Jamil Zaki for what is being called “The Lutz Experiment.”

“It’s a project they hope will make social psychology more accessible while it runs Mr. Lutz through a battery of experiments, teaches him a few lessons about himself and perhaps helps him conquer some long-held fears,” The New York Times reports.

You could say Lutz is giving himself up to science, and the whims of Dr. Zaki, for the greater good of mankind. The project will culminate in a co-authored book. And the pair has already piloted their partnership through a few very humorous articles, authored by Lutz, for Men’s Health and Wired.

This story first caught my eye because it stands as another example of how my two worlds, art (in this case improvisation) and science, often collide. Lutz’s willingness to “play along” can perhaps be attributed to his background in improvisation. We both trained and performed at iO Chicago, where the notion of “yes, and!” was pioneered. But, he also holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Valparaiso University, and his interest in the field has remained strong.

Social psychology plays such a huge role in theatre, both improvised and written. In acting class one of our assignments was to study people in public - on the El, in the hospital waiting room, at the grocery store. I spent hours recording the mannerisms, emotions and interactions of city-dwellers who had unknowingly become my guinea pigs, later attempting to recreate those characters on stage.

It will be interesting to see where “The Lutz Experiment” takes us. If anything, it promises to be an entertaining adventure. Photo credit: Jason Anfinsen/Wikimedia Commons

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