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City Tech Opens Its First Psychology Research Lab

City Tech Provost Bonne August (right) tries out virtual reality immersive head-mounted display with help from Professor Kubeck.

City Tech has inaugurated a new state-of-the-art psychology research laboratory, the first such facility in the College’s history.

The $250,000 lab will enable students and faculty to develop and conduct psychology research projects and allow for the integration of laboratory research and technology into the psychology curriculum.

According to City Tech Psychology Professor Jean Kubeck, what sets this lab apart from others in The City University of New York system, is that “it is the only one we know of that allows researchers to combine state-of-the art immersive virtual reality (VR) technology – giving users the sense of “stepping” into a 3D computer-generated world in a believable way – with more traditional psychophysiology, behavioral, and cognitive research equipment and methodology. 

Donning a high-resolution head-mounted display, lab users can immerse themselves in a 3D stereoscopic virtual world where they are free to walk and explore naturally. Researchers can create controlled and repeatable experimental setups and manipulate the world in ways normally impossible or prohibitively expensive in reality. An automatic motion tracking system, the PPT X2 by WorldViz, synchronizes movement in the real world with movement in the virtual world.

To design and render their VR worlds, Dr. Kubeck and her researchers are using WorldViz’s Vizard software, which features an easy-to-use scripting interface enabling them to concentrate on creating interactive high-performance 3D graphics without getting caught up in low-level programming.

City Tech President Russell K. Hotzler helps Professor Kubeck cut ribbon on new lab.
Photos by Alberto Vargas for City Tech.

“The new lab is ideally suited for research that presents stimuli in traditional or nontraditional formats like virtual reality and collects multiple kinds of data at one time,” adds Dr. Kubeck. “Currently, there are two research studies spearheaded by psychology faculty being conducted in this lab as well as several collaborations with faculty from City Tech’s School of Technology and Design and students from all three of the College’s schools.”

In one study underway, Dr. May Chen, and colleagues Dr. Kubeck and Dr. Pa Her are investigating how writing about emotional experiences affects health and coping. Studies have shown that writing about traumatic events is beneficial for various health and emotional outcomes, leading to fewer doctors’ visits and fewer depressive symptoms, for example, as well as positively impacting students’ academic achievement. The City Tech professors are addressing several related research questions, including: What specific mechanisms are involved when writing about emotional experiences? How does the process of writing about these experiences affect physiology such as heart rate?

In the second project, Drs. Kubeck and Vera Albrecht, along with student Christa Vassilliere, are studying emotional responses to music. They are asking subjects to describe their emotional experiences as well as assessing their physiological responses to various musical selections. They will be finding out whether music novices react differently to structural differences in music compared to music experts and how emotions elicited by music interact with ambiguous visual images.

The new City Tech facility’s integrated setup uses MindWare Technologies LTD components that allow for audio and video monitoring, two-way communications between experimenter and subjects, and two-camera color video-recording, among other features. Mindware’s electrophysiological equipment will enable monitoring of heart rate, cardiac impedance, vagal tone (the heart’s activity when at rest), skin temperature, finger and ear pulse plethysmography (measurements of blood flow changes), respiration, skin conductance (measurements of the skin’s electrical activity - similar to what is used in polygraph tests), continuous blood pressure, and electrical activity of the heart (ECG).

Another highlight of the new lab includes stimulus presentation via E-Prime, which presents audio/visual stimuli, records responses, conducts assessments, generates experiments and records data to millisecond precision.

“Our new research facilities provide faculty with the resources to conduct independent research or work collaboratively with fellow psychologists or members of other departments on scholarly activities,” says City Tech’s Dean of Arts and Sciences Pamela Brown. “And, our students can work collaboratively with their professors and apply what they learn in the classroom to make new discoveries.”

This summer, Dr. Her plans to begin a research project that will investigate how parents teach their children about emotions and feelings. She will be looking at children’s emotion knowledge, emotion regulation, externalizing and internalizing behaviors and physiological regulation. This project aims to address several research questions. For example, what specific mechanisms are involved in children's emotion knowledge and regulation? How does parental socialization and parental reactivity affect children's outcomes? What characteristics of the child (for example, temperament and gender) affect these associations?

The College is exploring the creation of a technology-focused bachelor of science degree program in applied psychology and an associate degree track for students working towards a two-year liberal arts or liberal sciences degree.

The new psychology lab was funded in part by The City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Research & Technology Initiative and Professional Staff Congress (PSC)-CUNY grants. Additional support was provided by the City Tech Student Tech Fee and the City Tech Department of Social Science.

02.24.11


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