Facilities, Equipment and Research Laboratories

  • The multiple award-winning John Henry Brookes building opened in 2014, and provides a state of the art library and extensive study spaces. Psychology students have the use of a dedicated computer lab for the teaching of statistics and research methods. For project work we have dedicated rooms for running computer-based experiments and interviews. More specialist research can be undertaken in one of our six research labs.

  • Our EEG/ERP lab has a state of the art electroencephalogram (EEG) recording facility for event related potential (ERP) research into the neural bases of cognition. The lab has a galvanically isolated, sound attenuated chamber for EEG recording and an adjacent control room. The lab is equipped with a 64 channel EGI recording facility to study aspects of cognition in healthy adults and clinical populations.

    During a typical EEG recording, a sensor net with electrodes soaked in electrolyte solution is placed over a participant’s head. These electrodes record brain electrical responses in relation to any ongoing task or event. The primary focus of the EEG lab is to understand how the brain interprets motor information from visually presented objects and its role in the guidance of attention. The EEG/ERP lab is also being used to investigate the neural processes related to remembering and forgetting emotional events.

    TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) TMS is a technique to stimulate the brain noninvasively by generating a high-intensity magnetic field from a stimulating coil, which can temporarily excite or inhibit a small area of the brain. TMS is used to explore the neural bases of cognition or to treat certain clinical conditions. Our TMS lab has a Magstim Rapid system with alpha coils, air film stimulation and sham coils. In our lab, TMS is being used to investigate the role of different parts of the brain in attention, memory and motor planning using online and offline stimulation methods.

    Our Visual Cognition Lab investigates basic cognitive processes associated with visual perception, attention, and visual short-term memory. Most of this work is implemented in the form of computerised experimental tasks. The lab has specialist equipment for accurate stimulus calibration on computer monitors and equipment such as stereo goggles for rendering of stimuli in depth.

    There are two main strands of our research. One concerns the early mechanisms in the brain associated with object perception. This uses a technique called visual masking - a stimulus or set of stimuli are presented briefly on screen rapidly followed by a task-irrelevant stimulus called a mask. Typically the mask renders the target imperceptible when the mask has certain types of visual characteristics and when it occurs within a certain temporal window with respect to the onset of the target. The conditions in which masking does or does not occur is informative about the nature of the underlying brain mechanisms associated with object processing.

    A second strand of our work looks at how perceived visual information is represented in a cognitive structure known as visual short-term memory (VSTM). We have looked at how different forms of attention influence VSTM. More recent research is looking at how VSTM-held information is accessed, retrieved and compared with current perceptual input. Such questions concern our abilities to make visual comparisons between objects and to notice changes in a visual scene.

    Our Writing Lab has a range of equipment to record and measure handwriting and keyboarding behaviour.

    Participants are asked to write with a special pen on paper laid on top of a Wacom Intuos graphics tablet. This allows us to register the xy coordinates of the written response over 100 times a second. We use specialist software (both Ductus and Eye & Pen) for stimulus presentation and to produce measures of handwriting duration and velocity as well as pen pressure. The software allows for the re-play of handwriting production in real time so that aspects of letter formation can be examined.

    We also have two computers with keyboards and the specialist software InputLog, which records every stroke made on the keyboard while writing. This allows us to measure the speed of production of different words and also the revisions made while writing.

    The Lab also has an EyeLink 1000 eye-tracker, which can be used with a chin or forehead rest to support the head or it can be used remotely, without any head support. We use the software Experimental Builder to prepare and conduct eye-tracking experiments.

    The Writing Lab is mostly used to explore writing and spelling processes in adults with and without language and motor difficulties.

    Our BabyLab consists of a suite of rooms specially designed to undertake a range of research with babies and young children and their parents/carers.

    An observation room is furnished as a play area. Cameras and a one-way mirror allows for natural activities (like mother-child interactions) to be observed, recorded and later analysed.

    Our eye-tracking room houses a special camera that uses infrared light to create a reflection on the child’s eye. We use this to compute exactly where the infant is looking while they sit in front of a computer screen showing videos or sequences of pictures. Using this method, our current work is investigating language development in infants.

    Our head-turn preference room has a 3-sided booth with a light in the centre of each side panel. While seated on their parent’s lap, an infant is first attracted to a green light on the central panel. A red light on either the left or right side then starts to blink and as the infant looks in that direction she/he will hear a speech sound. The sound stops if the infant looks away. By measuring the time spent listening to different speech samples, we can discover whether the infant has a preference for one of them. Recent work has explored infants’ preference for frequently-occurring versus infrequently-occurring sounds.

    All of these methods are controlled from an adjacent control room. This houses all the computers and gadgets that allow us to monitor, record and analyse all the data collected during our experiments.

    The PuMA lab is designed to investigate aspects of perceptual-motor skill in children and adults. The lab houses state of the art 3D motion analysis equipment, one example of this is our optical tracking system which includes four infrared cameras that can track the coordinates of small reflective markers placed on the body. This allows for the detailed analysis of movements when undertaking specific tasks. For example, markers placed on the hand and fingers allow us to analyse the movement patterns in reach and grasp tasks; markers placed on the torso and legs allow us to analyse walking patterns. This equipment helps us understand how movements are planned and executed and to investigate the nature of movement difficulties, for example in children with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD). A range of other equipment is used in the PuMA lab to examine perceptual-motor skill. This includes an electro-magnetic 3D tracking system and a digitising tablet which precisely records the x and y coordinates of a pen or mouse as it is moved over the surface. This has been used to analyse different aspects of handwriting skill in typically developing children and in those with developmental disorders such as DCD and Dyslexia.

    A wide variety of standardised tests are housed in our test library, located within the Psychology hub. These include tests of reading, spelling and writing ability as well as personality questionnaires and standardised tests of intelligence. Research students have access to use these tests under the guidance of their supervisor. Tests are regularly updated with the newest editions and we have staff trained in the area of psychometric assessment.