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Thoughts on a second year assignment

 

Dr Catherine Thompson

 

It is the time of year when all second year students are in the midst of their change blindness assignment for the modules ‘Further Biopsychology and Cognition’ and ‘Cognitive Psychology’. Having led the modules for a few years I have noticed that the majority of students go through a similar experience with the assignment and I can clearly see them progressing through a series of “interesting” phases. Here are my thoughts on the stages that most students go through when making their second year cognitive experiment (and incidentally, the stages that every researcher goes through when designing and setting up a computer-based experiment):

 

Enthusiasm – so I would generally say that most people start out with a certain level of enthusiasm. It is good to have free reign to design your own experiment and investigate something that interests you, rather than having to write about a data set that you have been given and have no ownership over. Yes it might be difficult to think of a good idea, but at least it is your idea.

 

Perseverance – this is not an easy assignment and there is a lot of work involved, particularly to keep up with the weekly tasks we complete (design the study, collect the materials, build the experiment….). Good to know that L809 and L810 are available after 5pm!

 

Realisation –who knew there were so many aspects to consider? It is not just choosing your variables, you have to make the stimuli, write your instructions, note down the correct answers, create a response screen (!), work with your group members…. and that’s before you even get to E-Prime (but it can’t be that difficult, can it?).

 

(Intense) Irritation – it happens to us all, when you use E-Prime to build an experiment it hardly ever works the first time. Either the computer can’t find an image file, or you haven’t put the correct answers in capital letters, or your pictures are too big for the screen…. the list goes on. So you find yourself in what seems to be a never-ending cycle of editing-testing-editing-testing, asking yourself “will it ever work??”

 

Moderation – this is the time for composure. Keep calm – it’s only a computer. Take a deep breath, go and have a break, then (unfortunately) carry on.

 

Elation – (aka “great happiness”) you may think this is a little over the top, but wait until you have experienced the moment when everything comes together and the experiment you designed is working perfectly for all to take part in. You are ready to collect your data and all the hard work was worth it.

Plus, when you come to collate your data and analyse the results you find out the benefits of E-Merge –being able to merge hundreds of responses into a single file and having all your data ready to input into SPSS with just a few mouse clicks.

 

I’m fairly sure that most of our current Level 6 students can remember building their E-Prime experiments for the cognition modules (and they all recall those days fondly!). The Level 5 students are going through it at the moment (hope you have reached the ‘Elation’ stage), and our Level 4 students have got this all to look forward to; exciting times ahead.

Designing your own computer-based experiment is difficult and at times it can be frustrating, but don’t forget the skills that you learn throughout the process – experimental design, knowledge of dependent and independent variables, ethical considerations, Photoshop, working in a group, and of course, mastering E-Prime. You might feel reluctant to complete another E-Prime experiment in the near future, but trust me, that feeling passes quickly (!).

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