Deanna’s SPUR Experience
The several months I spent conducting research in the Social Evaluation and Perception Lab at NYU, through SPSP’s SPUR program, were packed with insight, training, challenges, and achievements. When applying to different labs through SPSP, I was intrigued by the topic of social neuroscience. I had never been exposed to the field, but I had taken both social psychology and neuroscience classes, and was excited to explore the intersection of the two topics. I was accepted into Dr. Jay Van Bavel’s lab with William Brady as my PhD student mentor, and our main research topics included morality and emotion regulation. The nature of our study required elements I had never worked with before, including a dyad of two participants and psychophysiological equipment to measure neural and cardiac signals. Each dyadic experiment ran about an hour and a half long due to the complexity of components and tasks involved, but having so many elements allowed us to gain insight in a variety of areas- from physiological to social.
Coming from a small college, I did not have access to the technical equipment utilized in the lab. Luckily for me, none of the other research assistants had used the equipment either, so we all had the opportunity to train by connecting the biopacs, tape, and sensors to each other first. The greatest challenge was completing this hookup with both efficiency and accuracy, since it is a multi-step process. The goal was to keep the entire hookup to ten minutes or less so that participants could be as comfortable as possible. The first time I used the physiological equipment it took me over fifteen minutes. While I tried to go as quickly as possible, I was more concerned with accuracy, because in my mind, the worst thing I could do to a participant would be to spend ten minutes attaching tape and sensors to their body, all to have to rip off the tape and start over from scratch. However, the more I practiced, the more confident I became in my skill. After several trials, I checked my timer to see that I had hooked someone up in under ten minutes. The pressure was not off until I connected the computer to the sensors and saw that the signals were clear. While the physiological equipment was a challenge at first, it doubled as an accomplishment later on, because the day I got my time down to under ten minutes will certainly go down in the books for me.
An additional challenge I encountered during my time in the lab was designing and perfecting the manipulation. Because the study is still in progress, I will spare the details and simply say that the manipulation condition, which I often ran, did not immediately produce results we expected. Because of this, we researched past studies utilizing this manipulation and collected evaluation feedback from our own pilot participants to modify the manipulation. While it took longer than expected to be able to clearly pinpoint the strongest elements of the manipulation, I was reminded that designing and running a novel study is a process that does not happen overnight. As a result of this process, I strengthened my ability to narrow in on nuances that can affect an experimental design, a skill that will certainly serve me well when developing studies in the future.
Because the challenges I encountered at NYU were novel to me, my ability to overcome them led to the cultivation of new skills that I will value throughout my career in psychology. I am truly grateful to SPSP, Dr. Van Bavel, and Billy Brady for allowing me to gain in-depth insight into the field of social neuroscience and inspiring me to continue to pursue research.