When I think about my Laidlaw experience this summer, the first word that comes to mind is ‘diversity’. The reason for that is that all aspects of my research – topics, research methods and people I worked with – were very diverse. Even the discipline itself is not pure psychology, but rather psychophysics which, according to Steven Pinker, is ‘the oldest part of psychology’. In simple terms, it is the study of the relationship between physical stimuli and sensations/ perceptions they produce. This nature of my research gave me a solid reason to tell my friends studying natural sciences that some branches of psychology are closer to natural rather than social sciences.
My research question was also far from narrow – I was exploring the role of depth in selective attention, in other words, the mechanisms which allow us to selectively attend to particular regions of space. I have only fully understood the scope of this project after I had spent the first week researching the topic. While strictly speaking, my project is in a field of psychophysics, it also covers psychology of perception through its focus on the mechanisms of the visual apparatus required for depth processing as well as cognition through its study of brain’s processing of visual inputs. In my study psychophysics serves as a thread connecting psychology of cognition and psychology of perception through its measurement of reaction time and accuracy of participants’ responses to attentional and depth processing tasks.
This large scope of my project meant a large variety of research methods I could use. Some of Laidlaw scholars had first-hand exposure to the experimental method used in this project as I led them into a dark, retro-looking and somewhat scary lab. This was only one of the research methods I used as I first conducted literature review, discussed other visual processing experiments with researchers in the School of Psychology and participated in them myself to gain a better understanding of how one should conduct a psychology study. I was quite familiar with these research methods as we get a lot of practice with literature review in psychology classes and I had previously been a research assistant in the Vision lab testing participants and participating in experiments myself. What was completely new to me and quite challenging was the writing of a Matlab code for the experiment. I spent a week doing online courses, reading Matlab guides and putting on stereoscopic glasses (glasses with red and green filters that are similar to the ones you get in the cinema) in the library. I did the latter as I could run the code on my laptop and to obtain a 3D effect I could use stereoscopic glasses instead of a stereoscope in the lab. Not sure how many people recognised me but if you ever hear stories about a girl putting on cinema glasses in the library, you know who it was!
Finally, the last diverse aspect of my project was the range of the participants in my study. Strictly speaking, it was quite a homogenous sample in terms of age but luckily, depth processing does not change over lifetime so participants’ age did not matter. However, my participants were extremely diverse in terms of their academic backgrounds, psychology knowledge and the use of binocular disparity in 3D perception (binocular disparity is a difference between left and right eye’s view of the world which is one of the cues used by the brain to obtain 3D representation of the world). Thus, I had to learn to explain the experiment in simple terms as well as further clarify the purpose of the study to those participants who were interested in finding out more after they had done the study. I had to turn away 3 participants who did not use the binocular disparity sufficiently to participate in my experiment and explain to them that it is not a disease but rather an individual specificity of their visual system.
I would like to thank Lord Laidlaw for giving me an opportunity to work on this challenging yet very exciting project that kept me busy the entire summer (I had to analyse the data of all my 18 participants after I left St Andrews). Not only did I gain a great insight into psychophysics, but also developed my academic leadership skills as I have been guiding my own research. I am very grateful to have an amazing supervisor – Professor Julie Harris – who has supported me throughout this project, challenged me to go further and kindly allowed me to attend all Vision Lab’s meetings and seminars which was a great way to better understand my area of research and research in psychology in general. A big thank you to Laidlaw Team that made this programme go so smoothly and organised great leadership sessions. Finally, a special thank you to everyone who has participated in my experiment – without you I would not have been able to draw any conclusions!