Graham Flick
October 2021

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”!

Graham Flick
Cognitive neuroscience and neurolinguistics
PhD Student
New York University
Portrait of Graham Flick

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