Honors Summer Adventures: 68 Electrodes + Blackjack = Academic Research

by Ann Huet

Hello everyone! Unlike some of the more exciting places Honors students are this summer, I am spending the summer in Ames. Although it doesn’t sound super exciting with everyone gone, I’ve been given an incredible opportunity. I am currently researching in the Temporal Dynamics and Memory Lab in the Psychology department (spoiler alert – if you creep back to the old blog post about what students are doing after FHP, you’ll find my lab under the research picture – in other words, it went all over my social media).

So yes, I am only going be a sophomore in college and I’ve been researching with my Professor, Dr. West, for over 6 months now. Flashback to November when I was in Honors 121 (“You Know You Wanna B1” representing): we were all given the opportunity to join the Mentor Program. The Mentor Program gives freshmen Honors students the opportunity to research with a professor in the spring of their freshman year for credit hours. The program is super flexible because you can choose a professor who has already shown interest in having a FHP student or even seek out a professor yourself. I took the route of finding a professor, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In Dr. West’s lab we look at the cognitive process of the brain by using an EEG machine – a device (that kind of looks like a bathing suit cap) that has 68 electrodes that shows the individual brainwave for that section of the brain. During the spring we had undergraduates complete two series of tests: a modified version of blackjack, and a probabilistic selection task. In blackjack we could see physiologically what risky decisions look like in the brain, and in probabilistic selection if you were a positive or negative learning. Toward the end of the spring semester I applied for a grant that was offered to all of the FHP students who did the Mentor Program. The grant would allow us to extend our research into the summer. I received the grant, and here I am! For the summer we are running these two same tasks except with senior adults. By being able to compare college students to senior adults we can see some of the aging affects during these two tasks.

HuetThe inside of an EEG cap

This grant has given me so many opportunities which I never would had without the Mentor Program – a paid research position, an awesome resume builder, and my name in a Psychology journal in the near future! I have learned all the tricks to getting the best brainwave data from our EEG caps, met tons of former ISU professors, and even taken a few selfies with my subjects so that they could post them on Facebook. It is safe to say my summer in Ames hasn’t been so bad.

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