Sahira van de Wouw
December 2019

What do you work on?

My project is centred around the ques­tion: when is the optimal time to stop eval­u­at­ing new infor­ma­tion and commit to a deci­sion? Many real-world deci­sions involve options pre­sent­ed in series, and only having the oppor­tu­ni­ty to choose an option when it is pre­sent­ed. Accept a job offer or keep looking? Go on a date with your Tinder match or keep swiping right? These are exam­ples of optimal stop­ping prob­lems. Pre­vi­ous research has found that people gen­er­al­ly do not make the best deci­sion when pre­sent­ed with an optimal stop­ping problem. I am inves­ti­gat­ing why people make sub­op­ti­mal deci­sions, who is sus­cep­ti­ble to sub­op­ti­mal deci­sion making, and whether it is pos­si­ble to improve deci­sion making.

“I think online research will increase the overall pace of research in my field and the number of studies being conducted.”

What did you do using Gorilla?

I used Gorilla to build an online version of the fiancée task. The fiancée task is designed as follows.

In phase 1 of the experiment, par­tic­i­pants were asked to rate 90 dif­fer­ent faces of their pre­ferred sex (i.e. which sex they would like to date) on their attrac­tive­ness. In total they rated each face twice using a slider scale from very unat­trac­tive to very attractive.

In phase 2, par­tic­i­pants encoun­tered 8 faces in sequence and they had to accept or reject each one as their date. They were shown a total of 6 sequences. The primary two mea­sure­ments are the number of faces sampled before choice, and the rank of the chosen face. By analysing the posi­tion and rank of the chosen image, we can deter­mine whether people sample dif­fer­ent­ly com­pared to an ideal observ­er model, and whether their strat­e­gy is effec­tive­ly suboptimal.

For this part of the study I recruit­ed 20 par­tic­i­pants through Pro­lif­ic. The goal is to repli­cate over­sam­pling effects found in the lab, but I have yet to com­plete my data analysis.

The fiancée task is actu­al­ly part of a larger study in which it is only one of three con­di­tions. The other two con­di­tions are a classic best choice task (a number-based task) and a new vari­a­tion of the fiancée task. In this way, I can test whether par­tic­i­pant biases in deci­sion making relate to the textual-numeric versus image-based nature of the stimuli or to dif­fer­ing prob­a­bil­i­ty dis­tri­b­u­tions of option values.

What was your study protocol?

The study starts with some general infor­ma­tion about the study, fol­lowed by a consent box and a drop-down menu where par­tic­i­pants have to choose whether they would like to rate male or female faces. After they have done this, par­tic­i­pants are direct to either the male version or the female version of the experiment. The actual exper­i­ments starts with phase 1, where par­tic­i­pants are asked to rate faces on their attrac­tive­ness. This is fol­lowed by an expla­na­tion of the second phase of the study. The experiment fin­ish­es after par­tic­i­pants have com­plet­ed phase 2.

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

I includ­ed 9 atten­tion checks (5%) in phase 1 of my study to ensure that par­tic­i­pants were fol­low­ing instruc­tions and not just moving the slider at random to get through the experiment as fast as pos­si­ble. Par­tic­i­pants were first shown a black cross that dis­ap­peared after a random inter­val between 1 and 5 seconds. They were instruct­ed to press ‘next’ only after the cross had dis­ap­peared. This was repeat­ed with a red cross. Atten­tion checks appeared at random through­out the experiment.

“Gorilla’s stand-out feature is its intu­itive design and user-friendliness.”

Has this study been published?

No, but it has been pre­sent­ed as a poster.

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

I am cur­rent­ly con­duct­ing mostly behav­iour­al exper­i­ments. Online methods are well-suited for this type of research and in my expe­ri­ence it speeds up the entire research process. There­fore, I think online research will increase the overall pace of research in my field and the number of studies being conducted.

What is the biggest advan­tage of online research methods?

The con­tin­u­ous access to vast numbers of participants.

What is the most excit­ing piece of research you’ve ever done?

As an under­grad, I did an extracur­ric­u­lar research place­ment at the oph­thal­mol­o­gy depart­ment of the Ams­ter­dam Medical Centre. Having no back­ground in oph­thal­mol­o­gy what­so­ev­er, this was an excit­ing chal­lenge and if payed off: I managed to get a first-author pub­li­ca­tion in Cornea.

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

For me, working with Gorilla was a great way to start my PhD. It did not take long to under­stand the inter­face, and I fin­ished design­ing my experiment in just a few days. So I’d say Gorilla’s stand-out feature is its intu­itive design and user-friendliness.

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

Gorilla spared me the trouble of having to code my exper­i­ments in Matlab, which would have taken far more time and would not have allowed for such speedy data col­lec­tion as was pos­si­ble now through Pro­lif­ic.

On a per­son­al level, what are you most proud of?

I am proud of where I am now. I have moved to a dif­fer­ent country to do a PhD and that turned out to be one of the best deci­sions of my life.

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

I enjoy spend­ing time with friends, explor­ing the country (and the pubs), and per­fect­ing my rou­tines on the trampoline

What science book have you read recent­ly that you’d rec­om­mend to others?

It’s not really hard-core science, but some parts are relat­able nonethe­less and it’s def­i­nite­ly worth a read!

This is going to hurt by Adam Kay

What’s your favourite science inter­net meme?

Sahira van de Wouw
Cognitive Neuroscience
PhD Candidate
Royal Holloway University of London
Sahira van de Wouw

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