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
Picture showing a test glass Cognitive Neuroscience
Picture showing an university graduates hat PhD Candidate
Picture showing a School Royal Holloway University of London
Sahira van de Wouw

Ready to get started?

More Spotlight Interviews

Alex Jones

Alex Jones

[get-spotlight-info] "People unconsciously associate someone who looks Extraverted with words describing that trait. Using Gorilla, we are now expanding these studies to explain the effect using clinical populations.” Continue Reading Alex Jones