Identify this research experiment.
August 10, 2007 5:47 AM   Subscribe

What was this psychological experiment involving coloured shapes and static?

When I was in a psychiatric hospital about 15 years ago, I was asked to take part in a research experiment. This involved wearing headphones and watching coloured shapes appear on a computer screen. Various noises were played through the headphones, and the aim was to predict what noise was linked to the appearance of a particular shape. Bursts of static also came through the headphones, and I thought this was a problem with the equipment. In fact the researchers explained to me afterwards that it was the static that indicated that the particular shape was about to appear. The researchers said that if the drugs I was on were changed they would see me again, but I stayed on the same drugs so this didn't happen. I've always been curious about the hypothesis the experiment was designed to test - can anyone help? Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Science & Nature (2 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you contact the hospital, they may have records of your participation in the experiment. If they do not, you can ask them what universities they have worked with on experiments before (esp. during that time period) and call those universities' psychology departments. You most likely have the legal right to be informed of the hypothesis of the experiment after the fact, if the experiment was conducted by a University.

To take a guess, you can find out what medications you were onand the chemicals in them. Then, you can find out what areas of the brain they affect. Then you can do some sort of google search on the chemicals, the area of the brain and "visual" and/or "auditory" and see if anything comes up.
posted by Eringatang at 8:21 AM on August 10, 2007

The researchers said that if the drugs I was on were changed they would see me again

The above leads me to believe that the hypothesis they were testing was tightly bound to either the particular medication you were taking, or the medical condition for which the medication was prescribed. Without either of those pieces of information it will be very difficult for us to speculate. I can understand not wanting to reveal such information, but if you're willing, you could e-mail one of the mods to follow up here.

Eringatang's suggestions about contacting the hospital are good. Do you remember anything more about the researchers' affiliation? Were they part of the medical school, or a particular local university? Were they representing a department of psychology, psychiatry, neurology, etc.?

As a total stab in the dark, let me see if I can make better sense of the experiment. I'm guessing that the sounds that were supposed to predict the shapes actually didn't (or not very reliably, statistically). The static, as you say, however, did. This could easily be a test of attention: the degree to which you were able to attend to the sounds and disregard the "irrelevant" (to you) static, the worse your performance would be. On the other hand, if you were unable to filter out the static, you would actually be better at predicting the shapes, because you would be more sensitive to the predictive relationship between the shapes and the static. Or it could be about implicit learning more generally, i.e., how well you are able to learn statistical relationships without explicit instruction.

That's a wild guess, obviously, and it doesn't make a particular hypothesis, but that's where knowledge of your medical history comes in. They may be predicting that people on certain meds, or people with a certain condition, would be better or worse at this task for whatever reason, and they probably have sophisticated neurological and pharmacological reasons for thinking so.
posted by miagaille at 9:04 AM on August 10, 2007

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