PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University’s new human psycho-physiological laboratory will soon allow undergraduates to design and conduct their own research projects. The lab, the only one of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, provides high-tech monitoring equipment, designed specifically for undergraduate use. While the technology is legitimate for scientific research, the training necessary to operate the equipment makes it more suited to beginning researchers.

“The undergraduate research initiative is intended to create more opportunities for in-depth experience and more material support to student researchers,” said Professor John Hinson, acting chair of the WSU Department of Psychology. Using the new technology, students will execute the research projects that they initiate. “For example,” Hinson says, “a student could investigate evoked potential markers of cognition and behavior.”

The evoked potential is averaged electrical activity derived from the electro encephalogram (EEG) that is taken from various regions of the brain. “Those evoked potentials will tell us which regions of the brain are involved in important cognitive processes such as risky decision making, examples of which would include the choice to drink to excess or the decision to use illegal drugs,” Hinson said.

“I believe this new equipment will be incredibly beneficial to students, faculty and the university,” says Shital Pavawalla, a Ph.D. candidate in the Clinical Psychology Program and one of graduate students currently learning how to use the equipment. “Undergraduates will be able to learn about the brain via a hands-on approach.”

In traditional research settings, undergraduates might only be able to assist with the research of a faculty member and might not ever have the chance to ever propose a research topic or actually use the technology to conduct an experiment.

The undergraduate research initiative is just one of two major changes in the works for the psychology department. Currently it is waiting for final approval to add to its undergraduate degree structure a Bachelor of Arts degree to compliment the current Bachelor of Science.

“Many students,” explains Hinson, want to major in psychology, but their intent is not to go in to research. They do not have the same needs for the technically-oriented research methodology and statistics courses required of our B.S. candidates.” Many universities offer both B.S. and B.A. degrees in psychology. Approval of the plan is anticipated soon to allow enrollment in the new degree program next fall.