Elena Benini
October 2021

What do you work on?

My research focuses on Action Control and the ways in which we act inten­tion­al­ly to achieve our goals. I’m specif­i­cal­ly inter­est­ed in multi-tasking and utilise task switch­ing in my research as a means of oper­a­tional­is­ing multi-tasking in the lab, and inves­ti­gate short-term asso­ci­a­tions known as bind­ings (asso­ci­a­tions between a stim­u­lus and a response, or two stimuli).


How do you use Gorilla in your work?

I use Gorilla to run exper­i­ments where par­tic­i­pants must con­tin­u­al­ly switch between dif­fer­ent tasks. In a typical par­a­digm, we will often present digits on-screen and ask par­tic­i­pants to clas­si­fy them as either i) odd/even; or ii) greater/less than 5. We also use word stimuli (every­day objects, includ­ing animals and plants) and ask par­tic­i­pants to clas­si­fy them as either: i) liv­ing/non-living; or ii) smaller/bigger than a shoebox. By manip­u­lat­ing certain fea­tures of the task cue (i.e., that which signals which task par­tic­i­pants should perform), we have been able to demon­strate evi­dence of auto­mat­ic binding process­es. Pre­sent­ing this cue in a certain colour (which one would expect to be irrel­e­vant toward effec­tive­ly under­tak­ing the instruc­tion) improved task switch­ing per­for­mance when repeat­ed­ly paired with the same instruc­tion. Even if certain fea­tures of the task switch­ing cue are irrel­e­vant appar­ent­ly, upon rep­e­ti­tion these bind­ings are auto­mat­i­cal­ly retrieved and this can impact performance.


For you, what is the stand-out feature in Gorilla?

User-friend­li­ness! Stu­dents can get the gist of Gorilla quickly and that’s really useful — not only are stu­dents able to work inde­pen­dent­ly on their own exper­i­ments, but they can also col­lab­o­rate on their super­vi­sors’ exper­i­ments too. It’s also cool that you have the option to use some Javascript code if you want, without being forced to use it to build the major­i­ty of your experiment. For us, the point of using Gorilla was to save time and be pub­lish­ing more studies instead of spend­ing lots of time learn­ing Javascript. 


Are your mate­ri­als avail­able in Gorilla Open Materials? 

I have pub­lished a pre­screen­ing task that asks par­tic­i­pants to fetch and wear earphones/headphones and ver­i­fies whether they are likely to be wearing them. This was impor­tant for my online exper­i­ments as some­times the irrel­e­vant binding feature was cue modal­i­ty (i.e., task cues could be pre­sent­ed to par­tic­i­pants audi­to­ri­ly or visu­al­ly). Based on a par­a­digm by Woods, Siegel, Traer, and McDer­mott (2017), this task exploits the phase can­cel­la­tion of sound waves which makes it rel­a­tive­ly easy to dis­tin­guish a softer sound among others whilst wearing head­phones, but dif­fi­cult when using speak­ers. This allows for a higher level of exper­i­menter control and helps to ensure par­tic­i­pants are iso­lat­ed from their environment.


How do you think online research is going to change your field? 

I think online research will help to increase sample diver­si­ty — it allows us to reach people that we would never nor­mal­ly reach, espe­cial­ly given in-person vol­un­teers tend to only consist of Psy­chol­o­gy stu­dents. We can now recruit people with very dif­fer­ent back­grounds (and still keep track of how many of those are Psy­chol­o­gy stu­dents). As data col­lec­tion is much faster, researchers might now be willing to invest that extra time into exper­i­ments that they don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly trust; time-wise, you can prob­a­bly afford to spend a couple of after­noons col­lect­ing data you nor­mal­ly would not have, and this could lead to some cool results that may have taken longer to be dis­cov­ered using in-person data collection. 


When you’re not working what do you enjoy doing?

My pas­sions in life are ballet and scuba-diving! I love to dive and take under­wa­ter pho­tographs and videos — which is some­thing that takes a lot of skill to do well —  but I really want to keep improving. 


Who or what orig­i­nal­ly inspired you to work in your field of research?

My bach­e­lor thesis was focused on task-switch­ing and the Pro­fes­sor that first intro­duced me to the topic was an excel­lent lec­tur­er at La Sapien­za Uni­ver­si­ty in Rome. He intro­duced me to the works of another Pro­fes­sor who even­tu­al­ly ended up being my super­vi­sor! My Master’s super­vi­sors at Bicocca Uni­ver­si­ty in Milan were also super inspir­ing — their work doesn’t exactly match what I’m doing now, but it was really great to work with them and I would love to work with them again in the future.


What is the biggest advan­tage of online research methods?

You can run more exper­i­ments because it takes less time. Some of the results may be incon­clu­sive or not so inter­est­ing, but some of them may reveal some­thing that would have taken far longer to discover. 


What advice would you give to someone start­ing out in behav­iour­al science/research?

The best advice I could give is to read lit­er­a­ture (like…a lot!). This is some­thing that I could have done more and is still some­thing I feel like I don’t spend enough time doing. Get to know many dif­fer­ent papers, not just those sug­gest­ed to you by super­vi­sors. Also, you should try to build a solid stats back­ground knowl­edge in order to feel com­fort­able when running analy­ses (so you know what you’re doing at least a bit!) — this will be a really helpful foun­da­tion to build upon. 


What science book have you read recent­ly that you’d rec­om­mend to others? 

The Bound­aries of Babel: The Brain and the Enigma of Impos­si­ble Lan­guages by Andrea Moro is a very cool (and easily approach­able) book in which he describes some clever exper­i­ments he ran to show that there are some hard-coded syn­tac­tic rules that under­lie all lan­guage. Another great book I would rec­om­mend for sure is about con­scious­ness: Why Red Doesn’t Sound Like a Bell: Under­stand­ing the feel of con­scious­ness by J. Kevin O’Regan. This was very enlight­en­ing for viewing con­scious­ness in a more sci­en­tif­ic way that is tied up in perception.


What’s your favourite science inter­net meme? 

I would rec­om­mend every­body to spend some time on PhD Comics!

Elena Benini
Task and language switching
PhD Student
RWTH Aachen University

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