For my project this summer, I have been studying the influence of grip strength on pupil size. Grip strength was used as an indirect mean to model the tonic and phasic activation of the locus coeruleus which has been known to be related to pupil dilation through the release of norepinephrine. When looking at the inverted U curve of tonic LC activation and phasic activation, it is shown that low tonic activation and high tonic activation have low performance as the subject is, respectively, not alert or distracted. Therefore, to achieve the largest phasic activity and greatest pupil dilation, the tonic activation should be at the level in between inattentive and distracted. We are testing various thresholds of grip strength as a model for tonic activation, and it is expected that at medium strength conditions the pupil dilation and phasic activity will be the greatest, and that at the lowest and highest strength thresholds, the pupil dilation will be the smallest.
I learned a lot through this research experience this summer. I gained a lot of valuable skills including the steps of how to conduct a professional experiment from the initial design to modification, to recruiting and compensating participants. I was also able to build upon the basic matlab skills I came into the lab with and can now understand and code much more complex analysis and experiments. Additionally, working in the neuroscience department was also a great experience since I have always been interested in cognition and the brain but never really knew much about it. This summer, I was able to learn a lot about the brain and how it functions through reading and discussing academic research papers weekly with other members of the lab.
Participating in this research project really contributed to my educational experience by giving me a better sense of what working in a research lab is really like. I really enjoyed the research atmosphere and would definitely love to work in a lab again. I realized just how independent all the work in a lab is, yet how supportive the rest of the lab community is to each other’s projects. This summer was such a positive experience in which I gained valuable skills that I am looking forward to eventually translating into my very own research one day.