7 Tips & Tricks For a Smooth Lab Experience
Running a study has a lot of moving parts, like different technologies, different hardware pieces, new respondents, operators and a new study design.
Failure or complications in studies most often occur due to small mistakes that could have easily been avoided. Often they happen because people didn’t know about basic tricks to avoid issues.
In light of COVID, having a reopening plan and safety instructions is imperative for the safety of your participants and research personnel. Read more on our general guidelines for sanitation between participants in our previous blog.
It is important to minimize risks to ensure the highest likelihood of a great study outcome. The following are seven things that you should keep in mind in order to have your next study in your lab run smoothly and successfully:
- 1. Simplify technology setup
- 2. Have optimal Environment and Lighting
- 3. Have enough people to run the study
- 4. Ensure training
- 5. Always use templates
- 6. Use reliable connection options
- 7. Prepare your workstation computer
For both hardware and software, it is recommended to use as few vendors as possible. If you have many different devices, in this way you can make sure that they interact well with each other and all the devices are compatible. It might be a setup that is proven to be running well.
Furthermore, in the ideal setup, everything would be integrated into one single software. Having to switch between different operating systems or also between different computers can cause difficulties. It is, for instance, easier to train new students on a single software than on multiple.
Having a single software platform decreases the amount of training needed, simplifies the setup and takes out the risk of human error. Also in case of problems and support issues, it is easier to deal with one vendor and have a direct contact person than to be pushed around between vendors because nobody feels responsible.
Important: Switching or updating software should always be between studies, before or after but never in the middle of a running study. Try not to change anything while running a study. Pretests can also help you avoid some of these pitfalls.
Depending on the sensors you are using (i.e., EEG, eye tracking, facial expression analysis), you may need to have an environment that does not create (extra) noise and introduce unnecessary artifacts to the data streams you are collecting.
Each setup will have its own caveats, but it is imperative that you follow best practices guidance to set up your lab space to efficiently and effectively collect neurophysiological data. When using EEG, for instance, it would be ideal to have an electrically shielded room (i.e., Faraday cage) where the EEG data being collected is not exposed to various forms of electrical noise in the environment. If you do not or cannot set up an electrically shielded room, you should ensure that you do your best to prevent electrical noise from influencing your EEG.
For eye tracking and facial expression analysis, optimal lighting conditions are absolutely essential.
- backlighting – will result in poor contrast in the face region resulting in poor data for facial expression data
- direct sunlight coming through windows – sunlight contains the infrared light that will impact the quality of the eye tracking measurements
The number of research personnel required to run a study successfully highly depends on the complexity of the study protocol and the number of neurophysical sensors being used. For simple protocols with one or two sensors (i.e.eye tracking & skin conductance, EDA( then you will only need one research personnel per participant. For more complex protocols and setups, you may need two or three personnel per participant.
For example, with complex setups like EEG, it is always good to have at least one researcher in order to expedite the EEG capping procedure, to efficiently monitor the study recording, and to clean up afterward. On the other hand, for more simple protocols, like those involving GSR (Galvanic Skin Response) you don’t need a second person unless you just don’t want to do it on your own.
Please note that your research personnel’s safety is important, especially if evening research sessions are being conducted. As such, we recommend having multiple researchers conduct the study after hours.
Also, ensure you have a sufficient lab space to accommodate your participant and the research team conducting the study. By having too cramped of space, having many people could introduce unwanted stressful effects on your participants during data acquisition.
It’s important to follow guidelines recommended by your government and institutions on the best practices in regards to social distancing and safety. Check out Texas A&M-HBL Reopening plan for inspiration.
It is essential that people who start at the lab are trained on the systems used in the lab so that they have a certain level of knowledge that allows them to run a study smoothly. This can include having the ability to debug or assess errors or issues that may arise during data collection.
Generally, training is important for any kind of position in the lab. Having to train people during the testing process is a disadvantage and usually requires more time and effort than needed with solid training beforehand.
Always have templates! Anything that you need to instruct somebody on or any documentation that is associated with setting up a study or running a study at the lab is the most important thing to have. Try to have templates for every step of the research process.
Documentations are very important in institutions such as a university where research assistants at most stay for four years because once a person leaves and they hire a different person, that person needs to know everything from where to order consumables from to whom to contact for support.
Therefore, make sure to have some kind of documentation about anything from management to study execution. Such a checklist can be provided to the researcher conducting the study to ensure all necessary steps have been taken during the study, from set up to running the study.
Many biosensors depend on either a USB or Bluetooth connection. With USB, you have to be aware of what version is recommended for the particular device. Often the device is tuned to a particular version so it will work better on USB 2.0 rather than USB 3.0 or vice versa. Consult your hardware manual(s) or with your CSM if you have any questions about connecting your biosensors to iMotions.
When using Bluetooth, you want to have the best possible connection because otherwise, you might experience connection drops. Therefore, having a short distance between the device and the receiver will remove common Bluetooth connection problems.
A Bluetooth dongle and extension cable can often solve line-of-sight problems with wireless connections.
To ensure that your data collection goes smoothly, do not have extraneous processes running in the background on your workstation computer during data collection that could interfere with the data acquisition. Below is a checklist of things to consider in order to ensure that your workstation is in the optimal form to utilize the iMotions software.
- Make space on your hard drive for your data by backing up and removing files that you don\t need from your computer.
- Disable any security measures from your workstation that may interfere with network connections, as many hardware devices required background network connections with iMotions software (i.e. eye trackers, API functionality)
- Disconnect from the internet during data collection if your network security protocol needs to be altered, please consult with your IT department on best security practices
- If the internet is needed, verify that the sites are safe and consider using an ethernet cable (consult with the IT department in your org. for best practices regarding alterations to your internet settings)
- Disable screen saver
- If possible, please disable your antivirus as it may interfere with important background network connections between iMotions and relevant hardware.
- Disable any pop-up notifications from Windows Action Center that could disturb during the experiment
- • Right click on Windows Icon> Settings > Type in “Focus Assist” to access this setting >Focus assist >Alarms Only
Important: Be in touch with your IT department. You may have network restrictions that keep you from getting up to speed. For example, firewalls can interfere with some lab software. Your IT department can provide you with the necessary guidance on how your firewall protocols can be altered to accommodate your research needs, such as accepting a local network connection between your research computer and your eye tracker (connected via ethernet cable).
Finally, when you are running a study you want to minimize the variables and the complexity of the technological setup to minimize the risk of something going wrong. Always try to keep your protocol and the setup as simple as possible!
You are not sure how to set up your lab in the best possible way, you need assistance with selecting the most appropriate sensors for your study or you have any other question regarding biometric research? Don’t hesitate to contact the team at iMotions.