Running Participants (no where near done)

It’s been over a month since my last post and not much has changed. Oh, except that I’ve run about a third of my participants, begun cleaning and analyzing data, and set goals for where I want to take this project and even what I plan on doing next summer. Despite the fact that many other summer researchers are wrapping up their projects, I’m only getting started, so this blog post will be about what I did in July and I’ll add one more post right before the Summer Research Symposium to wrap it all up. Hopefully by the end of September I’ll have run all my participants and can finally stop being so vague about what I’m doing locked in the ISC all day!

Okay, maybe I can tell you a bit of what I’ve been doing in the ISC all day, but only if you promise to keep it a secret (ethics and all that). I’ve been doing research. Super awesome brain wave research that’s going to help me take over the world. Actually, it’s probably just going to help me get into graduate school. Taking over the world comes later and is not condoned by the Charles Center or Psychology Department at the College of William & Mary. Anyway, oddly enough, only about a third of the hour and a half that the participants spend in the study is recorded on the EEG, despite the fact that all of June was devoted to prepping that part of the study.

Realizing that was a bit of a blow to me. The month I spent compiling stimuli, editing them, and making what is basically a high-tech (and thus highly finicky) Power Point boiled down into 20 minutes of study time while 30-40 minutes are devoted to fitting the electrode cap. It’s all a matter of measuring heads, picking caps, measuring again (and again and again) until the cap is centered, and then rubbing gels and re-arranging hair in a manner that I think is the closest thing Earth has to a hair salon in the Galactic Empire from Star Wars. I’ve actually come to treat the whole process as a beautician would, referring to the steps in which we prep the face for electrodes as “a mini-facial” and encouraging participants to tell me their life stories while we fill the electrodes on their scalps. There are some great stories, although I can’t quite figure out why it seems like every student here wants to be either a doctor or a professor and they all seem to be chemistry majors.

After I’m done fitting the electrode cap and learning random details of the participants’ lives, the actual study begins. We close the door to the Faraday cage, turn off the lights, and the game begins. Pictures flash on the computer screen while the participant presses keys to respond. In another room, I watch as their brain waves respond to the images in what has come to be a fairly predictable pattern. Afterwards, we turn on the lights, have them complete a “short” survey that actually takes longer than the procedure itself, and do all the typical debriefing and payment that is required in the wonderful world of the psychological study. What have I found? people ask. I have no idea. Though I can see the results of the survey and the responses people type on the keyboard during the study, what I really care about can’t be analyzed until after I’ve collected data from many more participants.

In some ways it’s frustrating not to know if my entire summer of work will pay off but at the same time it’s allowed me to focus on all the individual skills I’ve learned and some of the trends in the data that I can see so far. My only hope is that by the end my data will make a difference.




  1. Lauren Greene says:

    Blakely! You’re a boss (like you said). I am finally commenting and I have to agree that your training blog post is infinitely better than mine. Ah, well! Your project sounds really cool, though, and I’m really curious about what you’re testing. I hope your research continues to go well and that you continue to learn random things about your participants! (I also think your data will make a difference, whatever it may be!)