Frequently Asked Questions
You’ll find answers to some common questions about our research below. Other questions? You can email us at LBDLpsych@northeastern.edu.
What is involved?
In general, study participants play computer games we design or respond to standardized questionnaires so that we can understand how people think and feel. While the specifics of each study may differ, typically our studies involve playing games where participants make decisions about pictures by pressing buttons.
Our studies usually last between 1 and 3 hours depending on how long the activities take to complete. Participants have the opportunity to ask questions and take breaks any time during the study session.
Before taking part in a study, participants complete a 10-minute phone screen for eligibility. Once the phone screen is completed, lab members will reach out about ongoing studies that are looking for participants. If you are interested in completing the phone screen, you can fill out the form here, and a lab member will call you to go through the phone screen.
Where do studies take place?
Our lab conducts studies that take place at Northeastern University’s Boston campus and online research studies that do not require coming to campus.
On campus studies will either take place in the Learning and Brain Development Lab or at Northeastern University’s Biomedical Imaging Center for brain imaging studies (go here for the addresses and more details). To learn more about our brain imaging studies read below. Online studies involve joining a video chat with a researcher and/or going to certain websites to play the games and require an internet connection.
What are we trying to find out?
Our lab is interested in how people learn and remember information, and how they use that information in the future, for example to make decisions or control impulses. We are especially interested in how learning and using learned information changes as people grow from children into adolescents and adults. The games that participants play and the questions that they answer in the study are designed to help us figure out how kids, teens, and adults make decisions. In our brain imaging studies, we also want to find out about how brain development affects learning and using learned information. You can read more about what we hope to find out here.
Who can participate in the studies?
Because we are interested in how learning changes as people grow from children into adults, our studies are usually for people between the ages of 4 and 30 years old. On campus studies are best for people who live within commuting distance of Northeastern’s Boston campus. Online studies are open for all US residents. The 10-minute phone screening described above will help us match interested individuals with ongoing studies that they can participate in.
What is involved for a brain imaging study?
We use a non-invasive tool called magnetic resonance imaging or MRI, which uses magnetic fields to take different types of pictures of the brain. Just like when participants come into the Learning and Brain Development Lab for a study, participants who come in for an MRI study will play computer games, inside of the MRI scanner while we take pictures of the brain.
What is it like to have an MRI?
MRI scans produce images like x-rays, but unlike x-rays, there is no ionizing radiation. The MRI machine looks like a tunnel with a bed that moves in and out of the tunnel. To take pictures of the brain, we use something called a coil, which looks like a hockey helmet. Participants lie on the bed wearing the coil (hockey helmet), then are moved into the tunnel. Once inside the tunnel, the movement of their head will be limited so that the machine can take pictures of their brain. Just like taking pictures with any camera, if you move while the picture is being taken, the pictures are blurry and we can’t use them. Cushions and blankets are provided for extra comfort to help reduce movement. Participants will be asked to look at a screen and complete games by pressing a button to respond. They will be able to talk to, and listen to, the researchers. If they feel uncomfortable at any time, participants can stop their participation, and they will be taken out of the MRI machine right away. Before the scan, participants will have the opportunity to test out what being in the real MRI scanner is like in a mock scanner, which is a replica of the real scanner without the magnet.
Is it safe to have an MRI?
MRI scans do not use ionizing radiation, and there are no consequences for repeated scanning. Since the MRI machine uses big, very strong magnets, we have to make sure not to bring metal close to it. Before participants enter the MRI, the researchers will ensure that they do not have any metal and it is safe for them to go in the machine. The MRI machine also makes loud noises while taking its pictures, so we use ear plugs and sound masking headphones for hearing protection. And while entering an MRI machine is perfectly safe when we adhere to the safety measures we have in place, it is recommended that people who are pregnant not spend long periods of time in or around the MRI. Therefore, if a person may be pregnant, they should choose not to participate in MRI studies but they can still participate in studies that do not use MRI. All of our research studies adhere to FDA regulations for safe research practices.
Do participants get anything for taking part in the study?
Participants will be compensated for their time, reimbursed for travel costs, and may earn small prizes or bonus winnings depending on the study. In addition, participants can sign up to receive the results from the study they took part in.
Will parents receive feedback on how their kids did in the study?
We do not give feedback on any participant’s performance on the games or questions. Participants can sign up to receive results from the study, but whenever we share our findings, we will only talk about the general patterns that we have found across all the data and never talk about one person’s data.