Thursday, July 19, 2012

Milk, maps, and my brush with death (just kidding about the death part).

Most research students can relate to the stress that accompanies recruiting participants for our studies.  So, in the interest of good karma, I've tried to sign up for studies when I can.

A while ago, I participated in a study that examined how our mind relates to an artificial limb.  The goal with the research is to help people with prosthetic limbs.

For the experiment, I sat down with both of my forearms inside a black box and watched a video of the fingers of a prosthetic arm being stroked with a paint brush.  At the same time, the researcher was showing me a video of him stroking my fingers with a paint brush.  He was trying to see if my mind would accept the fake arm as my own.  I could tell which arm was mine, so I thought the experiment was boring. BUT, the student explained that in the original experiment (where he got the idea from) the participants saw a video of a hand getting stabbed with a knife and even though they knew the fake hand was being stabbed, not their own, they still jerked their hand back.  That was kind of cool.  So was getting a huge bar of chocolate for participating.

Last week, I participated in a milk tasting study.  The researcher strongly emphasized that we should NOT swallow any of the milk.  He also emphasized that an ethics committee did approve the study, so anything we tasted wouldn't cause harm.


I sat in a cubicle and was presented with a pair of milk samples.  I took a swig of one, swished it around, and then spit it out.  Then I did the same thing with the other sample.  I repeated this for 12 pairs of samples.  My job was to identify the milk that I liked better and explain why.  I'm not a huge fan of milk, so I may or may not have sniffed some samples, decided they smelled HORRIBLE and poured out a wee bit of milk into the spit cup so it looked like I tasted it.

Yes, I am a cheater.  But, in the end I still got a $20 gift card to a local grocery store chain.

The most recent study that I participated in was really fun.  A guy from the tramping club was comparing our ability to locate ourselves on a map of Woodside Glen track, one that none of us had been on before.  The weather was craptastic and so our easy/moderate hike turned into a hardcore sliding down the mountain mudfest.  We had to scramble up the side of a mountain, sometimes on our hands and knees, for nearly 3 hours.  I fell into a stream at one point and ended up getting lost with a group of students (all with their own map mind you).  And you know what?  When we realized we had completely lost the track the first reaction wasn't hmm, maybe we should turn around and go find the track.  Nope. Someone suggested we photo-document being lost.

Like I said, the weather was craptastic.  The fog made it really hard to stay on the right track, especially when we walked through this tussocks. 

So, the leader of our little stroll decided to can having us find the last few points where we needed to locate ourselves on the map.  This was fine by me!  I was tired, cold and hungry.  He promised us lunch, so quitting meant we'd get to eat sooner.  We all looked like dogs on ice on our way to find a place to sit for lunch.  It wasn't a matter of if someone would fall on their rump.  It was more a guess of how many times we all would fall.

Oh, the things we do in the name of research!


  1. As someone who endures three really painful shots, (in two arms and one leg,) once a month as part of a research study, I appreciate what you are doing! I get $50 ( it pays for race entries) but tramping in the foggy countryside really sounds like fun!

  2. I like being a research subject -- but tramping through the countryside in the fog sounds like more fun than getting three really painful shots at once to lower my LDL. I will admit I like the $50!

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