Week 3: Spence Laboratories, University of Iowa

March 5th, 2014

Tiffany Lawless ’15, Coleman Fellow in Psychology

This week, I was allowed to really sink my teeth into the various projects in Dr. Wasserman’s lab. In one project, we are preparing to test the pigeons with rotated stimuli to see if they can generalize what they’ve learned. These pigeons already have very high accuracy when presented with familiar stimuli, and we want to see if they still perform well when presented with the same stimuli in different rotations. I was in charge of creating all of the new rotations (240 files in all!) in Photoshop, which was a bit of an adventure because I’d never used the software before. I met the challenge just fine, though, and I learned how to run batch processes of many stimuli at once! Once I had created all of the rotations, I put many different sets of training and testing stimuli into spreadsheets that were customized to each individual pigeon. I then put each of these spreadsheets into the program that we use to run the birds. Next week, we will test my 8 new programs to make sure I did everything correctly. I certainly hope I did! It was very exciting to learn how to create programs to use with the pigeons. It really put some of my computer skills to the test!

Also this week, I further honed my hand-shaping skills. One of the birds I’m in charge of is doing very well. He even pecked at the screen a bit this week! The other bird is not going as great, unfortunately. I think she is still a bit unused to the Skinner box. She sits completely still for a half an hour at the start of every session. Obviously, this makes for very slow progress.

The final big task this week was editing the charts I made last week and helping Dr. Wasserman edit the method and results section of his upcoming paper. In psychological articles, the method section informs the reader of how exactly the experimenters carried out their study. The results section includes all of the relevant analyses of the raw data without any subjective discussion. They are very important sections, but they are also some of the easiest to write because they are so concrete. The charts I made needed to be resized a little, and I had to adjust a bit of shading, but the important parts were perfect! I don’t know how much of a help I was with the paper, being that Dr. Wasserman is obviously more experienced in that sort of thing than I am, but I certainly learned quite a bit from seeing and participating in the process. This has been another week filled with learning, and I most definitely look forward to the next!

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