Project Title: Investigating motivational biases and the effect of mental imagery manipulation in young people with dysregulated behaviour
Who am I?
Hi Everyone! This summer I'm working as a research assistant for the Mood Instability Research Group under Dr. Martina Di Simplicio. The internship is 11 weeks long and is part of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) at Imperial College London.
My research involves working on Part 2 of the lab’s ongoing iMAGine study which seeks to determine whether differences in reward and attention processes and mental imagery ability are associated with self-harm and binging/purging. We hope that the results of the iMAGine study can feed into an imagery-based digital intervention, the Imaginator app, which aims to teach young people with dysregulated behaviours more adaptive strategies for dealing with negative emotions.
I am specifically examining the self-harm component of the study. Currently, my main task is to be an experimenter and “test” participants. Every day I conduct 1-2 study sessions where I screen participants and take them through the experimental tasks and questionnaires. Some key components of a session involve the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), the incentive delay task, and the dot probe task. The TSST is a common paradigm used in psychology to induce stress in which participants have to deliver an impromptu 5-minute speech and complete mental math calculations in front of judges (other members of the lab). The incentive delay task allows us to investigate whether reduced processing of everyday rewards such as money is associated with increased motivation for more salient rewards from self-harm in clinical populations, while the dot probe task allows us to investigate whether clinical populations have a particular attentional bias towards stimuli that are related to their self-harm behaviours such as a razor. So far, I’ve tested half the sample needed for the study and my goal is to finish the other half by the end of my internship.
My Experience as a Research Assistant
Being a research assistant at the Mood Instability Research Group means that I also attend team meetings twice a week. At the meetings, our team compares data analysis and presents the progress/findings of what we’re currently working on. In addition, our lab has a reading club with another lab in the psychiatry department where we get together once every few weeks to discuss exciting research papers that we want to share with each other.