When I started this blog, one of the main reasons for doing so was to talk about how to program and run psychology experiments. I’ve made a couple of low-level forays into those areas in the past, but I’ve always intended to put up some reviews, handy hints, and maybe even some completed programs related to particular pieces of specialised experimental software.
Unfortunately, this post is not going to do that. I started aimlessly browsing a load of websites this morning looking at the options available for this kind of software, and quickly realised that a) I needed to do a lot more reading and work if I was going to write anything which could hope to be even moderately comprehensive, and b) that there are already some really rather good sites that already exist and can serve as an introduction to this sort of thing.
For instance, as a starting point, you could do a lot worse than this wikipedia page, which lists a bunch of the more well-known behavioural software packages and includes some helpful information about platforms, interface, and cost. This little snippet of a page on the Cambridge MRC-CBU website is also of interest, as it shows the results of a survey of researchers and what packages they use (quite old though; 2006).
Lastly, I urge you to check out this heroically comprehensive collection of information and links curated by Hans Strasburger, who works at the universities of München and Göttingen. There is an awful lot to digest on this web-page, but it’s packed full of solid-gold nuggets of greatness. It’s mostly skewed towards visual psychophysics-type experimentation, but there’s an awful lot of value here for any kind of psychology researcher.
At some point, I’ll do a ‘proper’ post (or more likely, series) on experimental software with reviews, examples etc., but these links should keep you busy enough until then.
So, you’ve got a lovely juicy essay/paper or research project to write, and instead of spending hours going through card catalogs in the library you obviously want to get your research done in the fastest way possible – on the internet. Here are my best tips for finding material for a paper or essay using online databases. In a nutshell – there’s more to finding information on the web than just typing some keywords into Google and using what pops out on the first page of results.
As a general rule, you should familiarise yourself with what databases are available to you – some are totally open-access, while others require some kind of subscription. Most universities and colleges subscribe to a lot of them, and you can usually find links to available databases on your college’s library website.
The way I usually start is with a couple of really general search terms on Google Scholar. You could start off searching on Google’s regular web search page, but all you generally get there is the wikipedia page, and you wouldn’t be stupid enough to reference wikipedia in an essay, would you? Of course not. Say your essay is on working memory – so stick “working memory +review” (without the quotes) into google scholar. This gets you about 2.2 million hits! Change the middle drop-down box at the top to restrict your search to the last, say, five years and then you have less than half a million references to go through – easy. Of course you don’t have to look through half a million papers – the great thing about Google Scholar is that it ranks things in order of ‘influence’ – which roughly translates as the number of times that paper has been cited by other papers. While there’s lots of arguments about exactly what this means in terms of a paper’s genuine influence, influential papers tend to get more cited than others, so it’s a reasonable metric. Hopefully you’ve got a couple of good review papers there on the first couple of pages that will get you into the topic. The other really great thing about Google Scholar is that it links directly to PDFs of the papers (when they’re available on the net) which enables you to directly download the papers with a single (right-)click. Of course if you use reference management like Mendeley (and if you don’t, you’re an idiot) you can also import references from Google Scholar directly into your library. Here’s a nice page which talks about some advanced tips and tricks for getting the most out of Google Scholar. Read the rest of this entry
I decided to put together a computer skills checklist. A lot of the things on this list are not specific to psychology and should be part of the training of every student. I would advise students to work through the list and note down any entries that you’re not comfortable with – finding out how to do these things and ticking off every item on the list will definitely advance your knowledge and help you out in future. Some of the things on the list have already been covered on this blog, and some I’m planning to cover in the future. Let me know in the comments if you think I’ve missed anything!
Green text denotes a basic/essential skill, orange means intermediate, red means it’s an advanced skill. Most students should be able to tick off all the green ones straight away – if you can’t you’ve got some work to do! Read the rest of this entry