Saturday, 11 December 2010

I've got EEG on my face!

Gumtree was yet again responsible for providing a weird distraction from daily life. This time, it was an ad for paid volunteers for a psychological study. It seemed interesting and, to be honest, an easy way to make a few quid.

So I fired off an email a couple of weeks ago and got back a message asking me to complete some online personality questionnaires. I did them, and submitted the results to Mindlab as requested. I wondered soon after if it was just a way of getting responses to the online test because once the results had been received, they emailed simply saying that if you were then chosen to take part in an actual study, then you would get the £5 payment for filling in the questionnaire. To be honest, I didn't expect to hear from them again.

However, last Sunday I got a phone call asking if I could go to the University of Sussex the next day to take part in an actual study, involving being hooked up to an EEG, for which I'd be paid £20 (plus the £5 for filling in the personality test). Dade had volunteered for the very same study so we elected to go along at the same time, either for moral support or a mutual opportunity to laugh at each other, I'm not sure which.

So a freezing Monday morning found us mingling with the students on a train to Falmer. We checked into the Mindlab centre and met the four people who would be conducting the tests. They were a fairly young and amusing bunch, though the office looked a little thrown together (and the walls moved more than the ones on Crossroads!)

Before we knew it, we were being wired up - me in a very fetching tight-fitting cap with Polo-sized holes in, and a weird strap that attached the cap to a chest strap. Once secured, some really unpleasant electrode gel was squeezed into the holes (and all over my hair) before the elctrodes were attached and the signals were checked. Once that was done, I resembled some kind of multi-coloured Gorgon - or at least that was what I was told - I couldn't see myself. Very unfairly Dade could move in his seat and spy on me but I was practically velcro-ed to the back of my chair and couldn't reciprocate. I should just be grateful he didn't get a photo!

Once all the signals were being picked up OK, the procedure started. First, I was shown my "resting" brainwave - although initially even relaxed and with no visual stimuli, mine looked like the seismic readout of an earthquake. However, this turned out to be a glitch and it finally settled down. To show how important it was to remain as still and calm as possible, they asked me to blink a couple of times and also to clench my teeth. When I did so, the readout wnet wild. Finally, the actual test got underway - we were moved to our designated tables, the lights were dimmed and off we went. There were some control exercises - following dots round a screen with your eyes, presumably so that the eye-tracker could be tested, then counting the number of dots that appeared for a few seconds and shouting the answer out to the technician. That one was a bit disconcerting because our tests had been started almost simultaneously but Dade's just a little ahead. I could actually hear what number he was saying and it made me paranoid every time I counted a different number of dots, even though I couldn't be completely sure that we were doing exactly the same test! They then showed some random video clips of varying degrees of boringness (some Juliette Binoche rubbish), sentimentality (Forrest Gump) and violence (American History X). Once the controls were complete the actual study began. I'm not going to say with what we were actually shown because a) it's very boring and b) we signed a confidentiality agreement. Suffice to say, it involved looking at various pictures, accompanied by the most annoying voice in the world and then saying a number between 0 and 10 to say how much fun etc we thought the pictures looked. The actual test probably only took about 30% of the time!

Once done, I was disconnected from the apparatus and the cap was peeled off my head. Bleurgh. The gel was everywhere - my hair was all gunked up with it and was plastered to my head. Mmmmm, nice! Just as well my coat had a hood!

So off I trotted with my £25 in my pocket for my trouble - not bad for 75 minutes of weirdness.

I'm on their books now for future studies so we'll see if anything interesting crops up.

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