Studying myself

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How else does a grad student get 40+ hours of experimentation time over 20 sessions from one human subject?

I thought someone might have an issue with my idea of using myself, but apparently not. The NYU ethics review office didn’t even want to hear about what responses I’d be recording, or what protocols I’d be following. Maybe they assumed that music is a harmless stimulus, or that I knew I wasn’t allergic to the glue we use to attached electrodes, or that I was very unlikely to sue the school because of research I’d planed myself. I hope they didn’t care because the data collection is happening at another institution, in collaboration with someone who’s standing ethics certificate does cover this type of experiment.

Since no one has tried to stop me, I am now over half way through collecting what should be a very interesting continuous response data set. I’m collecting felt emotion ratings (Valence X Arousal) with an optional third rating scale to report whether I was experiencing emotion from the perspective of a listener or a performer, or in between. I say optional because in practice, I haven’t consistently remembered to evaluate this as well as keep up with the emotion stuff. The physiological data being collected is skin conductance, temperature, blood volume pulse, chest expansion (respiration), and sEMG of the zygomaticus (cheek), the corrugator (eyebrow), and the trapezoid (back of the neck). These signals include information related to emotional arousal and valence, though the how and why can be a bit indirect.

The stimuli are fairly divers as well. Once the recordings are finished, I’ll go through each piece to discuss why it was chosen and how these responses related to what is in the music. But until then, here is the quick list of pieces (track, artist, album), in no particular order:

1. Varúð, Sigur Rós, Valtari
2. Bizness, Tune-Yards, Whokill
3. Visiting Hours, Shane Koyczan, Visiting Hours (spoken word)
4. The Littlest Birds, The Be Good Tanyas, Blue Horse
5. Wavin’ Flag, Young Artists For Haiti, Wavin’ Flag
6. Basket, Dan Mangan, Nice, Nice, Very Nice
7. Movimento Preciso e Meccanico from Chamber Concerto (Ligeti), Alarm Will Sound, a/rhythmia
8. Feel Good Inc., Gorillaz, Demon Days
9. Gong Hotel, Radio Radio, Havre de Grâce
10. String Quartet No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 131: II. Allegro molto Vivace et III. Andante moderato, Artemis Quartet, Beethoven: String Quartets, Op. 131, Op. 18-2, Op. 132, Op. 59-3
11. Something to Write Home About, I Am Robot And Proud, Uphill City
12. Dutch, Dessa, A Badly Broken Code
13. Stampede, The Quantic Soul Orchestra, Stampede
14. Sinnerman, Nina Simone, The Definitive Rarities Collection – 50 Classic Cuts
15. The Stand, Mother Mother, Eureka
16. Invention No. 2 in C minor BWV 773, Glenn Gould, Bach: Two and Three Part Inventions and Sinfonias, BWV 772-801
17. 1685/Bach, Nosaj Thing, Drift
18. Thieving Boy, Cleo Laine, Wordsongs
19. Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi: O Fortuna, OSM, Orff: Carmina Burana
20. Lousy Reputation, We Are Scientists, With Love And Squalor
21. Boum!, Charles Trenet, Paris After Dark
22. Le Rosier De Trois Couleurs De Roses, STRADA, Gadje
23. Romance (Debussy), Rachel Talitman and Luc Loubry, The Golden Age of Harp and French bassoon
24. Ne m’oubliez mie/DOMINO (Mo 236), Anonymous 4, Love’s Illusion
25. Portal, Origin, Informis, Infinitas, Inhumanitas

This totals to nearly an hour and a half of music. During each sessions, I take notes between pieces, which adds some time as well. Some are just to warn of sneezes or yawns which affect the physiological data, others mark changes in how I am interpreting the piece and reflections on what I think triggers my responses of one type or another.

The ethics issue is one I am still worrying about because I would like to release this data for other researchers to use. We need more public data sets for evaluating new ways of extracting relevant information from these continuous response series, and to help the discussion on what is and isn’t captured by these measures. In the interest of science, sharing is good. But this data set will necessarily be full of problems, not the least of which being that it comes from me, a member of the research community. I am going to discuss this data processionally, and I can’t honestly refer to the subject as anonymous, or FU. As someone with many ideas and opinions about emotion and continuous responses and music, I am not a naive participant; this data cannot be treated as that of the “average listener”. Nor do I expect people will be all that comfortable digging into a particular person’s emotional experiences. There must be discussions the problems of self study in psychology research, perhaps I can find some ideas for sharing strategies from that literature.

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4 thoughts on “Studying myself

  1. Eric

    Hey Finn, it’s Eric. I’m curious how you found the Portal track. For that matter, I’m curious about your findings with Sigur Ros. They’re one of my favourite groups actually and I did a conference paper on them some years ago that will hopefully grow up into an article soon. Hope all is well!

    • finnupham

      Hey Eric!

      I’m still working on telling the story of each track, but have begun with the Sigor Ros track because it was so powerful. The Solo Response blog has some of the analysis up, but better formulated stuff should follow. The piece was particularly good at getting my absorpted in the music and feeling powerful sense of awe. Some of my responses to that track were really extreme (like vibrating and feeling neasous afterwards extreme.)
      The portal track was very interesting too, I talk about it a little on the MIMM poster. I did come to enjoy the piece with more exposure, and my bodily reactions grew more consistent as I worked out how to move and be engaged with this type of music. There is a lot more in the data, though. We should look at the material together some time. Are you still in Montreal?

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