Sunday, April 4, 2010

Love and some Hate

On wednesday next week I am heading down to Melbourne for the 37th Australasian Experimental Psychology Conference (EPC). Although I've been to conferences before, this is the first conference at which I am presenting my own research and I won't lie, I'm incredibly nervous. The last few weeks have been a mad rush to get experiments finalised, data analysed and a coherent presentation put together.

Two weeks ago I was running what I thought would be my last participant through an experiment I plan to present next week at EPC. This particular participant was quite interested in the experiment and afterwards was eager to know more about what I was studying (always nice when someone shows an interest in what you're doing). I proceeded to debrief them.

As I was explaining the results the participant commented on my conditions and suggested that I had excluded one from my analysis. Slightly alarmed by this remark I attempted to clarify what they meant.

Their response: "I'm sure I saw such and such happen during the experiment."

I immediately felt sick, the participant had alluded to a potential confound in my design and there were only two possible explanations. Either they were asleep during the experiment and dreamt what they saw or there was an error in my code. Participants falling asleep during my experiments is not as unlikely as it may sound, it happens quite regularly. This particular participant seemed quite switched on though and I was immediately suspicious of the latter.

I opened the experiment and begun scouring through the code for the error. It didn't take long for my fears to be confirmed, the error was obvious. I began to stress a little. Without going into the details of the error I clung to the hope that it hadn't shown up in the data despite my last participant's testimony tending to refute the possibility. There is was though, where I had previously overlooked it, the error was blatantly obvious. I began to stress a lot.

So a long story short, I have been scrambling to rerun this experiment plus an additional experiment as well as trying to compile a presentation for EPC. Since monday this week I have run 41 participants across two and a half experiments. this includes running an entire experiment (7 hours of testing) on wednesday. The anxiety of potentially finding null results wreaked havoc on my sleeping patterns throughout the week.

I can report though that the results look fantastic for now and my presentation is coming along nicely. So onward to EPC where my results and presentation will likely be ripped to pieces by the academic elite. More sleepless nights ahead I suspect.

James Retell
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