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HEPC awards $25K grant for psychology lab expansion

ISSUED: 10 June 2020
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission has awarded a $25,000 grant to Shepherd University to complete phase III of its psychology lab. A new testing room that will be electrically and acoustically shielded and fitted with nonfluorescent lighting will be added, allowing the department to conduct psychophysiological research in which physiological signals like electrical activity of muscles and brain will be recorded using electrodes placed on the skin while research participants perform psychological tasks.

“Until now, much of the research done in the lab has involved measuring what’s going on inside a research participant’s mind by measuring behaviors like pushing buttons to images presented on a computer screen or answering written questions,” said Dr. Christopher Lovelace, chair, Department of Psychology. “With the addition of the new space, we will be able to add to that the measurement of physiological signals that are related to what’s going on inside the mind. For example, instead of simply asking a person if an image has made them anxious—and possibly having them give an answer that makes them seem braver than they really are—we can measure changes in heart rate and sweat gland activity that will give us a more accurate, and honest, measure of their anxiety.”

Psychology majors carry out an independent research project during their senior year. Lovelace said collecting data from research participants in person provides a much richer experience than simply doing a survey online, which is what many students do.

“Those who choose to collect data in person get a somewhat intensified experience as they have more to plan and keep track of,” he said. “Interacting with research participants face-to-face helps our students develop interpersonal skills needed for professional interactions. About one-quarter of our students go on to earn a master’s or doctoral degree in psychology that will require them to carry out an independent research project. Our graduates have told us that they had a substantial advantage having already done such a project, and that will be even more true for students who collect data in person using the laboratory.”

The new lab space will have computers with statistical software where students can work with their data and where psychology faculty, usually with the help of undergraduate research assistants, can collect data for research.

“I am particularly excited because I’m the only faculty member who currently records physiological signals for research,” Lovelace said. “I’ve had trouble doing this in the existing space because it’s not electrically shielded, meaning electrical signals flowing through the air from radio, TV, and cell phones interfere with my recordings.”

Lovelace says having the new rooms will make it easier for all psychology faculty and students to do multiple studies at the same time, perhaps encouraging more students to collect data in person.

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