Through PURM I had my first research experience under Dr. Allyson Mackey at the Changing Brain Lab. Her lab does research concerning brain plasticity and child brain development.
My main project was designing a study to investigate the relationship between parent-child interactions (PCI) and child curiosity and persistence. I began with a literature review of PCI tasks and collaborated with the team to develop a procedure. Our PCI task was a modification of the widely used “Three Bags Task”. The parent and child are given three boxes and fifteen minutes to play with the contents of each, the only restriction being to open the boxes in order. The object in the first box was a picture book without words. We’re interested in how the parent and child create a storyline, if this piqued the child’s curiosity, and the parent’s response. The next box contained a “Curiosity Box”, based on other PCI task methods, with an even distribution of three different types of objects (household residual, pretend play, and mechanical) to see how children explore the box and the parent’s influence. The final box contained the standardized WPPSI Block Design task where children and parents use patterned blocks to replicate the four hardest designs in the set. This was meant to elicit frustration to see how the parent influenced the child’s persistence. And as for the coding scheme, which is a way to quantify the types of reactions happening between the parent, child, and the pair, we chose the PARCHISY.
In addition to my main project, I helped facilitate the lab’s main child behavioral study and the fMRI scans with children. We also had a weekly journal club where I and other research assistants presented a recent publication in the developmental psychology community to the lab. I also learned about study design, running a recruitment campaign, working with children in the research setting, and other skills that will help me in future endeavors.
Another highlight was seeing the intersection between art and my research. Growing up, art and design were always a significant part of my life but I found it difficult to reconcile my interest in both the arts and sciences. However, at the Changing Brain Lab I contributed my artistic skills to the research by creating alien characters for a new net learning task, designing engaging booklets with a storyline about the fMRI experience for children, and so much more. It was enjoyable to create art for research purposes, and seeing children interact with it inspired me to find more ways to fuse my two seemingly disparate interests.
I’m excited to continue my work in the Changing Brain Lab this school year and am grateful to PURM for fully immersing me in research so early in my academic career at Penn!