Nicholas R. Harp
November 2021

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!

 

 

Nicholas R. Harp
Social and Cognitive Psychology, Affective Neuroscience
Graduate Student, Research Assistant
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Portrait of Nicholas Harp

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