Jes­si­ca Massonnié
September 2019

What do you work on?

I am study­ing the impact of class­room noise on learn­ing in ele­men­tary school. More specif­i­cal­ly, I am try­ing to bet­ter under­stand why some chil­dren are more sen­si­tive to noise than others.

“Chil­dren in their early ele­men­tary school years who expe­ri­ence inter­fer­ence at the Flanker task are espe­cial­ly impaired by noise when per­form­ing a cre­ativ­i­ty task.”

What did you do using Gorilla?

For now, I can main­ly talk about two results we found with Gorilla:

  • Through­out my PhD, I used an atten­tion­al task called the Flanker task. It mea­sures how fast chil­dren react to a sim­ple visu­al object in the pres­ence, or in the absence of dis­trac­tors. On aver­age, chil­dren take longer to answer when there are dis­trac­tors, but this dif­fer­ence is very small (around 100ms). Using data from more than 200 chil­dren, we checked that we could detect this dif­fer­ence when test­ing online, with Gorilla. That was the case!
  • Fur­ther­more, one of my study showed that chil­dren in their early ele­men­tary school years who expe­ri­ence inter­fer­ence at the Flanker task are espe­cial­ly impaired by noise when per­form­ing a cre­ativ­i­ty task.

Has this study been published?

  • Results from the first study (Flanker task) have been pub­lished in Behav­ior Research Meth­ods here.
  • Our study on class­room noise and cre­ativ­i­ty has been pub­lished in Fron­tiers in Psy­chol­o­gy here.

“I think Gorilla is a won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ty for stu­dents and early career researchers to design their project with­out the bar­ri­er of learn­ing how to program.”

Did you include any spe­cial fea­tures in your study to ensure good qual­i­ty data? If so, what did you do?

I was con­stant­ly stay­ing with chil­dren when they did the activ­i­ties, so I did not add spe­cif­ic fea­tures in my task to check whether they were focused / engaged. How­ev­er, I made sure I always had a back-up router to have a reli­able inter­net con­nec­tion: the wifi in schools can be busy and we need­ed accu­rate mea­sure­ments. It turned out that my cell phone was a bet­ter back-up than a spe­cif­ic and more expen­sive router!

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

I think Gorilla is a won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ty for stu­dents and early career researchers to design their project with­out the bar­ri­er of learn­ing how to pro­gram. In gen­er­al, and also for more expe­ri­enced researchers, the task builder allows to save a good amount of time that can be invest­ed in data analy­ses and writ­ing. But the biggest promise that Gorilla rep­re­sents, in my view, is the poten­tial to cre­ate a com­mon data­base to share psy­cho­log­i­cal tasks between and with­in research teams. This would allow for more trans­paren­cy, a more coher­ent com­par­i­son between stud­ies, and would pro­mote replicability.

How did Gorilla make your life or research bet­ter, eas­i­er or faster?

Gorilla allowed me to cre­ate my exper­i­men­tal tasks early on dur­ing my PhD, using the task builder. This allowed me to save con­sid­er­able amounts of time, although I still want­ed to stretch my cod­ing skills by using the code edi­tor for some tasks.

Know­ing that I would have a back­up of my data online was also reassuring.

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

One of the first advan­tages of online research I can think of is the pos­si­bil­i­ty to recruit broad sam­ples of par­tic­i­pants, all around the world. This would help to have more rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ples, beyond WEIRD (West­ern, Edu­cat­ed, Indus­tri­alised, Rich and Demo­c­ra­t­ic) par­tic­i­pants and Uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents. How­ev­er, putting research online is not the only fac­tor to make it hap­pen. We also need to com­mu­ni­cate through var­i­ous media and make sure that peo­ple have access to research beyond aca­d­e­m­ic circles.

Fur­ther­more, I think online research can lead us to rede­fine some of our mea­sures. If you think about data col­lect­ed via appli­ca­tions on smart­phones, you can ask peo­ple ques­tions about their every­day life, as they are doing their every­day activ­i­ties. I’m think­ing about some research, for exam­ple, on hap­pi­ness, where peo­ple rated how they felt when being engaged in var­i­ous activ­i­ties. You don’t need to bring them to the lab, and you can ask them ques­tions in con­text. How­ev­er, we need to be extra-care­ful about the Ethics here, and make sure data col­lec­tion is not too intrusive.

“Noise is a prob­lem often brought up by teach­ers. How­ev­er, we don’t know much about why some chil­dren are more affect­ed by noise than others.”

What chal­lenges are you fac­ing in your area of behav­iour­al science?

I have been think­ing a lot about the rela­tion­ships between the cog­ni­tive mea­sures we use in our research (i.e. Flanker task), and whether/how the process­es we are mea­sur­ing relate to par­tic­i­pants’ real-life and under­stand­ing of how they learn. Com­mu­ni­cat­ing about the “real-life” impact of our research is more or less a pri­or­i­ty depend­ing on the field and topic we are work­ing in, but in Edu­ca­tion, I think it is very impor­tant. And I came to realise how dif­fi­cult it was to unify mea­sures from com­put­erised tests, ques­tion­naires, and live observations!

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

I got this PhD by apply­ing to a grant adver­tised by Denis Mareschal and Natasha Kirkham, at Birk­beck Uni­ver­si­ty. I real­ly like this topic because every­one has an opin­ion about how noise affects them (e.g. If they pre­fer to work in a library, or in a cafe). It was also very impor­tant to me to work in the field of edu­ca­tion, and to be able to col­lab­o­rate with teach­ers and ele­men­tary school chil­dren. Noise is a prob­lem often brought up by teach­ers. How­ev­er, we don’t know much about why some chil­dren are more affect­ed by noise than others.

I dis­cov­ered while doing my research that I was pret­ty sen­si­tive to noise, so it might explain why I got attract­ed to this topic!

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

Cook­ing (yes, I’m French), swim­ming and doing yoga.

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

As a PhD stu­dent, I would high­ly rec­om­mend to orga­nize infor­mal meet­ings with other early career researchers. It real­ly allowed me to share ques­tions, doubts and com­ments in a safe and friend­ly envi­ron­ment. It is a won­der­ful way to receive advice and to get to know resources you would not know oth­er­wise. Many of these col­leagues have now became good friends and/or col­lab­o­ra­tors on sci­en­tif­ic projects.

Jes­si­ca Massonnié
Psychology
PhD student
Birkbeck
Jessica Massonnié

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