So, what are you researching?

I am so happy to begin this summer of research! I have been striving towards conducting my own experiment ever since first becoming a research assistant during my freshman year at CMU. Now that this goal of mine has become a reality, I am both nervous and excited to begin the long journey.

First a little about myself, I am a psychology student with a concentration in neuropsychology and a minor in cognitive neuroscience. In other words, I particularly enjoy learning about the biological mechanisms and components of the brain which underlie psychological phenomena.  In particular, I am interested in the development of the visual system and how our brain allows us to see our environments.

For my project, I am studying a specific area of the brain called the visual word form area. The visual word form area (VWFA) is an area of the brain which allows us to recognize written words and plays an essential role in our ability to read. Pretty cool! Lately, I have noticed I struggle to explain my research hypothesis in layman’s terms. My research relates specifically to certain anatomical and connective regions of the brain, and it’s easy for me to slip into field-specific jargon in order to explain my study without even realizing it! Explaining my research to others outside of the psychology field is something I am still learning, but this blog will be a great opportunity for me to practice this important skill.

To conclude my first blog post I will quickly describe what I’ve done so far as well as the next steps I need to take for my project. I have completed my literature review and an experimental protocol (I will describe more about my study’s design in my next blog post). In order to interact with human participants, I received IRB approval and access to the SONA participant pool. Now I am working through lots of MATLAB code to actually create the experimental stimuli which will be presented to the participants. This code will be run on a laptop and show participants various visual stimuli, track their eye movements, and record their responses. I have very little experience with MATLAB, so this is a daunting task for me. Luckily, a graduate student in my lab has been guiding me through this process. Hopefully I will have this code up and running before my next post, but for now I need to get back to work!