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?
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!