What do you work on?
I currently study individual differences in responses to emotional ambiguity. In other words, I am interested in why some people might perceive something as more positive versus negative. These kinds of individual differences are linked to psychological and physical well-being, and I’m particularly interested in how to promote positivity, when that’s adaptive. For instance, I’ve studied how modifiable lifestyle factors (e.g., physical activity) and mind-body interventions (e.g., Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) relate to individual differences in emotional bias. Most recently, I’ve been tracking emotional bias throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in hopes of uncovering how a shared stressor and societal uncertainty affects individual differences in response to emotional ambiguity. In this project, I am looking into possible resilience factors, like the use of interpersonal emotion regulation, that might help to buffer against adverse outcomes throughout the pandemic (e.g., loneliness-related negativity).
What did you do using Gorilla and what did you find?
I have used Gorilla for a few different experiments. My first study using Gorilla had two parts: (1) pilot testing of some new stimuli (emotional words) and (2) validation of this new set of stimuli. Since then, these stimuli have been added into my current lab’s primary task for assessing emotional bias. In the project, we compared participants’ responses to emotional faces and scenes with the newly developed set of emotional words and found that these responses were indeed related to each other (as expected!). Our findings are published here: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1948550620972296.
More recently, I have been using Gorilla for a longitudinal study, in which I am tracking emotional bias throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Our findings (published here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s42761-021–00059‑5) show that self-reported cognitive reappraisal tendencies are associated with a smaller shift toward negativity in our measure of emotional bias. In other words, cognitive reappraisal use appears to be a resilience factor in the face of uncertainty and stress stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. We have some more work forthcoming from this project, which will further characterize how emotional bias changed throughout the pandemic and what sort of psychological traits or skills were associated with differences in this bias.
For you, what is the stand-out feature in Gorilla?
I think the user-friendly task builder is probably the biggest standout. It’s been especially helpful for having multiple people, especially junior colleagues that are new to task design or programming, working on a project. Other than that, I’m a big fan of how version control is built into the site and readily accessible. I also really like that multiple experiments can be completed within a single project – that’s been particularly helpful with the longitudinal project that we have been running during the pandemic.
How did Gorilla make your life or research better, easier or faster?
I’m not sure how I would have collected data over the past few years without it! I’ve used other platforms before, but Gorilla certainly helped make it easy to catch new folks up to speed without the need to teach programming skills.
How do you think online research is going to change your field?
I think it will continue to change the field in many ways. I think one of the most valuable impacts is that online research allows researchers to collect more diverse and representative samples, moving away from WEIRD college samples.
When you’re not working what do you enjoy doing?
I can usually be found taking my dog for his daily stroll around the neighbourhood. Other than that, I enjoy playing guitar, camping, and most recently I’ve been exploring home winemaking!
Who or what originally inspired you to work in your field of research?
I had an Introduction to Psychology course right before finishing high school that got me thinking this might be an interesting career option — or at least that it would make for some interesting coursework! Originally, I thought that I might want to work as a therapist, but that quickly changed as I found a better fit with research. The first course I took at my undergraduate institution was focused on the biological basis of behaviour. I had a great (but tough) instructor, and that course really sparked an interest in me to better understand the brain. So, I pursued research opportunities in a couple of different labs and I’ve been at it ever since.
What real‑world problem do you see that your research could impact?
I think the data from the COVID-19 project will be particularly impactful. We have some preliminary findings that suggest reaching out to others to share positive emotions was particularly effective for reducing loneliness-related negativity in the early days of the pandemic. Paired with our findings on the role of cognitive reappraisal, I think there are some pretty direct applications for helping people be more resilient in times of uncertainty as a result of this project.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in behavioural science/research?
I guess I have two pieces of advice. Follow your interests, but also make sure to have an open mind for just about any opportunity that comes your way. I volunteered for a couple of years in an affective science lab, primarily using self-reports and physiological measures to better understand the nature of mixed emotions in human subjects. I knew that I wanted to incorporate brain-based measures more directly in graduate school, so I sought out an opportunity to join a lab where I could get some more “brain experience.” Specifically, I asked to join another lab at the medical center within the University , where I studied the neural mechanisms of sleep and anaesthesia in rodent models. I knew I wasn’t going to focus on sleep and anaesthesia in graduate school (or rodents for that matter), but having the opportunity to learn new techniques and get an understanding of how another lab worked helped make my transition to a new lab in graduate school easier. You learn about a lot more than just your research topic when you work with a new lab and research team.
What science book have your read recently that you’d recommend to others?
I recently read Jamil Zaki’s The War for Kindness. It has a great message that I think quite a few of us could use these days!