Rising sophomore helps design psychology experiment, demonstrates student-faculty collaboration at its best

Posted by Centre News in Behavioral Neuroscience, News, Psychology, Research 22 Aug 2014

Centre College students play an essential role when participating in collaborative research, engaged just as intensely in the projects as their faculty mentors and providing equally as many meaningful contributions. This summer rising sophomore Ethan Campbell (pictured above, left) had the opportunity to co-design an experiment with Assistant Professor of Psychology Aaron Godlaski (pictured above, right) that is intended to yield data they hope will shed light on the process by which people manage their emotional responses, referred to as “emotion regulation.”

The team is investigating several different emotion regulation strategies.Currently, there is conflicting evidence as to which method is best, so Godlaski and Campbell’s experiment will try to generate more conclusive answers, focusing on how these strategies produce physiological outcomes.Godlaski PS 1

“Emotion is an embodied process,” explains Godlaski. “Terms like ‘butterflies-in-the-stomach’ and ‘heartache’ are actually appropriate ways of describing experiences that are as much physical as they are mental.”

Godlaski’s MindBody Laboratory watches this process unfold by measuring subtle shifts in the cardiac cycle that indicate neural changes associated with emotional reactivity and control. By providing new information about this embodied process, the team hopes to further advance the neuroscientific understanding of emotion and emotion regulation.

Moreover, the results of this experiment could potentially impact the way many common psychiatric disorders are treated.

“Problems with emotion regulation are at the core of many major psychological disorders,” says Godlaski. “Depression can be understood as a difficulty with regulating negative emotion, anxiety has to do with difficulty regulating stress responses and substance abuse may, at times, be a maladaptive attempt to regulate emotional reactions.”

He continues, “Many treatments for these disorders are beginning to focus on this regulatory aspect of functioning and finding new and better ways to teach people how to cope with these sorts of problems.”

Fully immersed in this highly relevant and important experiment, Campbell has been actively involved in every step of its conception and design. The team plans to monitor participants’ heart rates while showing them videos intended to excite emotional responses. To prepare for the experiment, Campbell has been busy examining existing research on the subject, programming computer software and piloting some of the video footage. He will continue his involvement with the study this fall, as one of five students who will help administer the experiment.

Campbell, who plans to major in behavioral neuroscience, says that he was attracted to this project’s potential real-world applications.

“I have a general interest in psychology, but I think that the clinical aspect is really interesting, too; there’s a lot we can do in terms of how we help people to regulate their emotions in the most effective way,” he says.

Campbell reports that the planning and preparation for the experiment has been challenging, yet fulfilling, and a completely novel experience for him.

“It’s totally different from being in class,” he explains. “It’s a lot less directed, so you’re more autonomous and you have to make a lot of decisions on your own.”

Godlaski says he hoped this research opportunity would foster this kind of independence in Campbell.

“Much of any research process is self-guided,” says Godlaski. “What makes people good problem solvers is the ability to sit with an idea for a while and then come up with possible ways to test it and potentially arrive at a solution.

“You may not be 100 percent certain with what you’re doing, but you still give it a shot and see where it goes,” he adds.

by Caitlan Cole