EEG: What’s Fun About Learning

If you’ve ever participated in an EEG study, you know it involves having a bizarre metal cap put on your head and then syringes filled with gel poking your scalp, covering it with a sticky mess. I feel bad for everyone who has ever participated in an EEG study and for everyone who will in the future (including my participants). Thankfully, EEG tells researchers all sorts of information about cognitive processing that they couldn’t know otherwise—information that lets us further understand how the brain works and how humans think.

From a researcher’s perspective, EEG is about the coolest thing ever. Because I have never done an EEG study before, I went over to the ISC’s state of the art lab to learn all the ropes from some fellow students. Though I was prepared to just watch the first time, I found myself participating fully in a matter of minutes. The main task was to fill the electrodes on the participant’s scalp with gel until a light on the computer screen in front of us went green. Too little gel and the light was yellow, too much gel and the light was red or blue. Sometimes, the light would flash green for a second and then turn another color, in which case you had to wiggle the tip of the syringe until it stopped changing. I was reminded both of mood rings and target practice at summer camp. Soon, however, I became a pro. The lights would go green on the first try, and I was filling electrode after electrode (I estimate there are about 50 total electrodes on the cap).  It took 3 of us half an hour to successfully prepare the cap (thankfully, the participant that day was another student from the lab rather than an actual participant), after which we had to finally start the study! The participant was locked in the Faraday cage (that’s the special room where the EEG is located. Its walls block out all electric energy that could interfere with the reading)and we headed to a computer room where we watched red, green, and blue lines dance across the screen—recordings of what was happening in the participant’s brain! It looked a lot like a seismograph reading, but less bumpy, and way cooler (but maybe that’s just because I like brains). After the experiment was done, I said good bye to my new friends and headed on my way.

The Faraday Cage in the EEG Lab, http://pdkieffaber.people.wm.edu/Facility.html