I began work this week at the Lifespan Emotional Development (LEDLab) at Northeastern University. This psychology lab is headed by Principal Investigator Derek Isaacowitz, a researcher and professor who worked at Brandeis before Northeastern. I chose to spend my summer with this lab because I had wanted to get involved in Professor Isaacowitz’s research on emotion and attention across the lifespan since he was my instructor for Social Psychology during my freshman year. I actually interviewed for a position as a Research Assistant (RA) with this lab while it was still at Brandeis, but had to defer joining for a semester because of prior commitments. I thought I had missed my chance to join the lab when it moved to Northeastern in January 2012. Lucky for me, support from WOW made it possible for me to have my chance to be an RA this summer.
The LEDLab investigates “the links between attention and emotion throughout the adult lifespan…how individuals of different ages manage their emotions, and what role attention plays in emotion regulation and maintenance of well-being” (lab website). In order to study the way that adults of different ages attend to information and how that relates to the emotions that they experience, we make use of an eye tracker. which continuously tracks where a person’s gaze is across the screen. This lets us to know what a person focuses on: is is the emotional expressions on people’s faces or is it irrelevant details of the scene which allow a person to avoid facing emotional content? Believe it or not, this varies among ages. In order to better understand what eye tracking is really like, here is a photo of my lab manager and P.I. using the equipment.
You might wonder why knowing this type of information matters. However, understanding how people relate to emotional content has important practical uses for society. For example, the study I am working on is looking at how people of different ages (younger adults, middle adults and older adults) process health-relevant information differently if the focus is on emotions or information. Professor Isaacowtiz published on this topic in article called “Looking, Feeling and Doing: Are There Age Differences in Attention, Mood and Behavioral Responses to Skin Cancer Information” in the journal Health Psychology earlier this year. I will not go into detail on the findings, since they are a bit complicated to explain here, but they did find a difference in the way older and younger people processed information that was important to their health and well-being. This knowledge is important in knowing how to reach out to people in the most effective manner to protect their health.
My expectations for learning this summer relate to both the particular skill set that I hope to gain, and knowledge about myself and my future career goals. The particular skill set I think I will learn is the nitty-gritty details of psychology research: running human subjects, coding and entering data, analyzing data, and discussing findings. For myself, I think that this summer will help me figure out which path I want to take with psychology: will I want to focus on research, or clinical work? By gaining a deeper understanding of what research really entails, I will be able to make a more informed choice for my future.
– Leah Igdalsky ’14