To be a well-rounded researcher, you have to be creative enough to design and advertise an experiment, resourceful enough to find funding, aware enough to keep participants engaged, and intelligent enough to properly organize and analyze data. This week the Yale Positive Emotion and Psychopathology (YPEP) laboratory has helped me sharpen my data organization/analysis skills. This technical, and sometimes tedious, component of research is a huge part of being a psychologist. Data can come in all shapes and sizes, including questionnaire responses, neuroimaging, and even sweat production. A great psychologist knows how to combine different types of data from research participants in order to flesh out the big picture.
My first task this week was to write excel file MACROS for eye tracking data. A current experiment in the lab involves tracking participants’ eyes while they review a series of emotionally charged photographs. Recorded eye movement is then turned into ‘fixation’ data that is measured in milliseconds and ‘eye measurement’ data which measures the dilation of the pupil. This data helps researchers understand what specific stimuli within photos elicit emotional responses, which can be confirmed by the participant’s self-reported feelings. My job was to modify formulas to organize this eye tracking data.
My second, and more exciting task this week, was reviewing fMRI images. These images are a series of photographs that are taken using a magnet that is 60,000 stronger than the earth’s natural magnetic pull. These photos require the participant to lay very still while the photos are taken. It was my job to review these 3D photographs of the brain and ensure that they were not out of sync because of a fidgety participant. It was really cool combing through various brain images and seeing real examples of the brain regions. Speaking of which, I need to go make sure that I complete this MRI pre-processing before the week’s out. Don’t worry, I’ll fill you in on my next post!