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Last edit: 05-03-17 Graham Wideman


Psychology Experiment Framework
Article created: 98-07-10
faces_01_opt.gif (40395 bytes)A representative human-subject experiment application.

In each block of trials, the subject is asked to respond to each image presentation with "yes" or "no"  according to whether they recognize it as showing a particular emotion, say "happiness".  Investigators may look at response-correctness and response times to see if these measurements correlate with other factors of interest, say gender, ethnic background, age, or psychological diagnoses.  (McGivern, R. and others)

The animation here is a simulation of the actual experiment application... which is of course a little more random.  Animation stops after a while, reload to restart.

Contents, this page

Significant Need, but Significant Challenges

By the late 80's I had become increasingly involved in developing software for psychology research, and had discovered a field facing some significant software development problems:

The above factors tended to argue for custom programming, but this generally faced a number of problems:

A Framework Solution

Bearing these factors in mind, there seemed a need for an experiment development environment which didn't eliminate the need for an experienced programmer, but instead allowed a programmer to build applications more quickly (focusing on the tricky bits), while reducing the man-hours to the point that clients could afford.

The framework I developed had several features:

The resulting experiment applications have a number of critical features:

What Became Of It All?

Over several years, many dozens of applications were built with this framework, spawning hundreds of variants by way of different sets of parameters, stimuli and sequences supplied by experimenters.  Experiments involved animal or human subjects, for projects at SDSU, UCSD, and some experiments that ran in sites across the US and elsewhere (and continue to be run today).  Personally, it provided a great opportunity to be able to afford to be involved in fascinating and varied research, such as autism, AIDS, ADD, and even some topics not beginning with "A".

One major factor gradually overtook this approach however:  Newer users were (understandably) less and less inclined to acquire even rudimentary DOS skills, and it's not practical to work in a DOS environment without those skills.   By about 1994 MS Windows 3.1 had become the PC users' environment of choice. In addition, clients wanted to present visual and auditory stimuli that their Windows platforms appeared to be capable of presenting.

However, there persisted a development "dark ages" in which programming was either guru-stressingly difficult (working with the raw API) or unsettlingly vague and unpredictable (VB), and in any case Windows was unsuited to doing anything with precise timing.  So it once again became uneconomical to try to satisfy clients changed needs.

Recent developments, however, might make this approach worthwhile again:

It remains to be seen whether this trail will be pursued!

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