What do you work on?
My research examines the ability to produce and understand language, with a focus on how we recognize and combine the meanings of words. To do this, I use electrophysiological and neuroimaging methods like magnetoencephalography (MEG) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This allows me to record brain activity while participants do things like read a story or listen to someone speaking.
How do you use Gorilla in your work?
I use Gorilla to conduct online norming studies with many participants, which help me to design stimuli for use in later neuroimaging research. For example, in my research I often ask participants to read different types of sentences while they are in a MEG or MRI brain scan, with the goal of relating brain activity to aspects of language processing. For this purpose, we design a set of sentences that differ on a specific property, like syntactic complexity or the predictability of a word. At the same time, we want to make sure that the words or sentences don’t differ in other uncontrolled ways. Using Gorilla, I can plug these sets of test sentences into an online experiment, have many people to read them and rate them on various properties, so that I can be sure, when I conduct the brain imaging study, that the sentences are understood exactly how we want them to be!
Who or what originally inspired you to work in your field of research?
I was originally inspired to study the neural basis of language and knowledge by learning about cases of aphasia in an undergraduate systems neuroscience class. It was extremely fascinating to me that an individual could lose the ability to express themselves, while maintaining a lot of their semantic knowledge about the world. I wanted to try to understand the biological systems that allowed us to do this and how they could be broken down by injury and disease.
For you, what is the stand-out feature in Gorilla?
How easy it is to conduct relatively complex online experiments with very little upfront investment of time spent learning to code or design web interfaces. After following the tutorials and YouTube videos, I was able to put together a functioning online experiment that gave me exactly the data I needed, within a single afternoon.
What is the biggest advantage of online research methods?
The ability to collect a lot of data in a relatively short period of time!
What is the most exciting piece of work or research you’ve ever done?
I’m working on a project right now that I’m really excited about! It’s an examination of brain activity that precedes, and thus may be causally related to, stuttering in speech. The paradigm combines a new method of eliciting quite a lot of stuttering in a laboratory setting (which may have been a challenge for past research) with magnetoencephalography (MEG) to record brain activity with millisecond temporal resolution. This lets us examine fluctuations in neural activity during the few hundred milliseconds just before someone starts to speak and compare this with what happens just before fluent speech! We hope that the results will improve our understanding of how and why stuttering occurs!
How did Gorilla make your life or research easier?
Gorilla provided an easy-to-use web interface for collecting a lot of online data in a short period of time. As opposed to previous versions of our online studies, with Gorilla it was simple to present instructions, practice trials, feedback, and experimental trials in an online format that was visually appealing and provided the right tools for randomization and data output. In past online experiments, for example, we often presented individual items or sentences in a long list, with the undesirable consequence that participants could go back and change answers. With Gorilla, it was quick and easy to design an experiment interface wherein participants clicked through individual trials, providing input for each item, without this problem!
How do you think online research is going to change your field?
I think that the ability to collect large amounts of data online, in relatively short periods of time, has been and will continue to be hugely important in research on language processing. Moreover, if the input and data collection systems continue to become more sophisticated (e.g., online eye-tracking capabilities), I would love to see online research become more and more ecologically valid, such as online studies of how people read electronic books or scientific papers!
What advice would you give to someone starting out in behavioural science/research?
Invest time in figuring out what you really enjoy reading about, talking about, and researching! It’s often tempting to get caught up in the first idea that you have an opportunity to work on and hyper-focus on that going forward, but I think that it’s also important to explore a bit! And learning to code, at any stage of your career, can’t hurt!
Are there any online courses, podcasts, discussion groups or resources that you’d recommend to others?
I’ve been enjoying Dr. Stephen M. Wilson’s “The Language Neuroscience Podcast”!