Psi Chi and the lab assis­tants hosted a “haunted” event with their new lab equipment for Hal­loween. Ana Bog­danovich | Courtesy

Con­verting ordinary research tools into spooky thrills, the psy­chology honorary’s “Haunted Lab” event last week fea­tured attrac­tions from zombie run therapy, to aug­mented-reality arachnids, to Temple Run travails.

About 50 stu­dents attended the Oct. 29 event, according to senior and Psi Chi Social Chair Taylor Bennett. The event was geared toward both psy­chology stu­dents and campus in general to raise awareness about the department’s rel­a­tively new lab­o­ratory equipment that is available for student research. The lab tools include aug­mented and virtual reality, exposure therapy, and sensory wristband technology.

The iFeel Alive Labs, one of the new tools intro­duced last year, involves biofeedback com­puter pro­grams which are designed to help a person control stress responses through exposure to some­thing that makes him or her feel tense or afraid. To add a Hal­loween-themed twist for the event, lab assis­tants had par­tic­i­pants play “Temple Run” while wearing a monitor on their finger that detects increased heart rate.

“When you get stressed, the screen will go black,” senior and Psi Chi Pres­ident Lucile Townley said. “You can only play the game when you’re calm.” 

Par­tic­i­pants also watched a “Criminal Minds” episode while wearing NeXus-10 biofeedback equipment that detects a change in the participant’s normal resting state.

“Every time there’s a jump scene, you see stress levels spike,” Townley said. 

Townley noted one par­ticular student who was using the NeXus-10 tech­nology while talking about her com­pre­hensive exams and saw dra­matic graph activity as a result, sig­naling heightened stress levels.

Another par­tic­u­larly Hal­loween-themed part of the event were the aug­mented and virtual reality exhibits. Putting on virtual reality goggles is like jumping inside a video game, Townley explained, where one can look in all direc­tions and see a com­pletely virtual world. Aug­mented reality, in con­trast, only changes one aspect of the participant’s envi­ronment. Event orga­nizers used the aug­mented reality tool to create the illusion of spiders crawling around on an oth­erwise normal-looking table.

“I hate the aug­mented reality, because with vir­tu­ality reality you can say that it’s not real, but with aug­mented reality, every­thing looks real,” Townley said.

The lab also included several tests of dex­terity and cog­nitive abil­ities, including the ability to trace an image in a mirror or to nav­igate through a maze while blindfolded.

Townley said the event will probably become an annual activity. She added that the psy­chology department is for­tunate to have the equipment, and she credited Psy­chology department chair­woman Kari McArthur for her advocacy in improving the department’s research materials. 

Psy­chology stu­dents can opt to com­plete either a practicum or research for their major, and four stu­dents, including Bennett and senior psy­chology major Molly Schutte, are cur­rently com­pleting research projects to fulfill the requirement. Schutte plans to use the Empatica E4 wristband for her project, which involves testing a person’s reaction to an event com­pared with his or her baseline state. Schutte explained that the wristband is similar to an Apple Watch, in that has two small elec­trodes on the back touching the wearer’s skin. The watch is able to pick up on bodily func­tions like heart rate, sweat, tem­per­ature, and arousal (a participant’s general reaction to an event). Schutte said the wristband helps the researcher to avoid extra­neous anxiety that might skew mea­sure­ments, as the tool is rel­a­tively non-invasive, com­pared with other equipment. 

“We have some other equipment where you have to use tape, or it goes on your finger, or there are patches that go on your back to measure those dif­ferent things, and it kind of puts you on edge because you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh I feel like I’m Franken­stein,’” Schutte said. “But the wristband is just really simple. You can get a lot of infor­mation while focusing on some­thing else.”

Schutte also expressed grat­itude for the oppor­tunity to work with the department’s recently-acquired equipment. 

“The fact that it’s available for stu­dents is huge because then you’re not limited in what you’re inter­ested in studying, and you know you have things that can take you further,” she said. “It’s really impressive.”