As some of you may know, I am a double major in Psychology and Neuroscience. When I tell people about my classes, I get a lot of questions about what a psychology lab truly is. It might be hard for people to visualize them, since psychology is the study of the mind and behavior whereas chemistry produces a physical and chemical result. I really wanted to show my peers the intricacies and complexities of a psychology lab, so I conducted some interviews.
Elena Sidiropoulos (Class of 2021) is a freshman psychology major. This semester, she is in “PS-204: Introductory Psychology with Lab”. This is her first experience with having a lab built in to a psychology class, despite studying it intensely in high school. She has found herself really enjoying it, saying “It’s good to introduce you to a scientific point of view in psychology. You’re not working with stats just yet, but you’re still working with quantitative and qualitative data.” She describes how her classes have included a lot more information here at Regis. Elena says that the lab “Adds more knowledge to what you didn’t know. If we did a previous study in PS-203 [Introductory Psychology I], we could talk about it in lab but also go into more depth and talk about follow-up experiments or more modern attempts … that helps solidify what concepts we’re talking about.” She also joked about how it was really beneficial to have the class with so many friends around her. When asked what her favorite part of the lab was, she said, “I think the discussions help bring it all together, after we’ve done so much work on the labs, we can relate it back to the content. We can talk about how to relate it to the real world and real situations.” You could see the excitement on her face and certainly hear it in her tone, especially when she mentioned: “A lot of the labs were pretty fun, I didn’t expect the results!”
But what exactly goes on in the psychology lab? Andrew Cook (Class of 2019) elaborated for us. Andrew is a double major in Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities and Criminal Justice – and this class is his very last core requirement. He says that, in a lab experience, “We essentially go over previous studies and then make our own variations based off of said previous studies. As a whole, these activities help me understand how studies are written out and published in peer reviewed articles.” This is clearly an important process, not just to psychology majors, but to bring about a solid understanding of the scientific community. For instance, one lab conducted was an observational study. Students from PS-204 went around the Regis College campus and were tasked with observing others around them. The students would sit for three minutes and keep an eye out for any signs of nonverbal communication, specifically head nods. The students made a note of how many times people would nod in a conversation. The overall goal of this was to see if there was a difference in nonverbal communication styles between males and females – and the data was taken (anonymously) from our very own campus! Andrew mentioned how his favorite part of the lab occurs after we conduct our own versions of the experiments. He says, “My favorite part of lab is gathering the results from our various studies and thus actually conducting the research.” Andrew is also looking forward to the end of the semester, where he will spend his time doing an internship, lobstering, and spending time with his girlfriend.
But the semester isn’t over yet! Dr. Sheila Combs, Assistant Professor of Psychology teaches PS-204. She described her goals for students in the overall lab experience, saying, “My goals are to get students to practice thinking like a psychologist, encourage curiosity, improve scientific literacy and writing, and learn the basics of APA formatting.” She describes how the lab is very hands-on; students are assigned four crucial lab report projects, including: survey studies, naturalistic observations, experimental studies, and correlational work. This occurs supplementally with the in-class lectures. She mentions how, “For three of the labs, students are the participants as well as the researchers. Students collaborate with one another to conduct and write up each lab report. Students read and summarize journal articles, come up with hypotheses, gather and analyze data, and report the findings.” She mentions that this is absolutely crucial to the experience of studying psychology, as: “One of the best ways for students to learn is to learn by doing … [this] allows students to turn theory into practice. Conducting research is also an excellent opportunity to develop and practice critical thinking skills.” Like Andrew, she says that her favorite aspect of the lab is “When students actively engage with the material, and each other, to come up with solutions/answers.” She notes that this class is great preparation for PS-303 and PS-304 called “Research Methods”, which are required for Psychology and Neuroscience majors. She mentions how they do similar experiments, but at a much more accelerated level – even working on designing their own experimental projects!
Elisabeth Cooke (Class of 2020) can confirm this. In her PS-204 experience last year, she definitely recalls going over the research process, APA formatting, and the basic concepts. Now, Elisabeth has taken PS-303 and PS-304. She says that “PS-303/304 is really great because we are learning more about the research process and are conducting our own studies that we have been working on all year. It’s great because rather than only being lectured, we get to apply what we are learning.” She can give more insight into what occurs in a lab. She mentions how it doesn’t get confusing, since all of the material can easily connect back to the lecture. She also describes a common activity in PS-303, saying: “We do an activity called, “journal clubs,” where we evaluate and compare two research studies and have a group discussion about them. In PS-304 (second semester of the course), we would do a journal club and then conduct our own study in class using ourselves as the participants. It helps us understand how to create a research question and develop that into a study.” She mentions that the next step in this process is a lab report, which is dependent upon the APA skills learned in PS-204. As the semester comes to an end, she excitedly mentioned how she is eager to begin her study. She says, “It’s great to see something that you have worked on so hard for so long finally come together. This class was quite an experience and has provided me with skills and information that I will be able to implement in other classes as well as in a career.” Elisabeth also notes that she has grown as a student since taking these classes, especially considering that she had to design her own research study from scratch. She comments on this, saying: “It’s okay to ask questions, but I was expecting to be told exactly what to do. Being in a lab where I am creating my own research study has required me to make decisions on my own and take more risks. This class has allowed me to grow from a ‘textbook learner’ to someone who is more okay with taking risks.”
Overall, long story short: psychology labs are pretty awesome. They certainly teach you more about psychology, and they also are very helpful for future references. It’s like being presented with a puzzle that is just a complete enigma to you; once you start figuring it out, you may find that you understand a lot more about yourself by the end.