I felt like I was diving into the deep end when I recently went along to assist in a psychology research study at Swinburne University of Technology. There were many questionnaires to fill out, a long interview, a cognitive examination and an MRI scan. There was also a MEG, which is a non-invasive imaging technique.
The purpose of the study was to determine why some people with schizophrenia hear voices and what is happening in their brains during this experience. Another purpose of the study was to help determine whether people with bipolar and major depressive disorders and some adults with no history of mental illness also hear voices and sounds similar to people who have schizophrenia.
The research study was conducted over two weeks. It was great to instantly bond with the psychology graduate researcher who explained everything very clearly to me. I was able to follow her instructions on everything from correctly filling in questionnaires and what to do in the cognitive tests, to the whole rollout and mechanics of all the procedures.
What was involved?
The questionnaires I filled in involved extensive screening to make sure I was in perfect health. The cognitive tests measured important traits like concentration and memory, which was tested using reading lists of words and numbers and symbols backwards and forwards.
I also had to answer many questions about all aspects of the voices I might hear such as their frequency, type and magnitude. Through filling out the questionnaires I realised most of my voices are unfortunately negative about me.
After the interviews and the tests came the lengthy MEG tests. On reading about these cognitive tests they seemed intimidating. They involved wearing a helmet with tiny wires and being hooked up to a machine.
There were a number of tests using the MEG. One involved pressing a left button on a button pad when a left arrow flashed on a screen, and the right button once a right arrow appeared. When a tone sounded along with the arrows I was told not to press any buttons. On another test I was told to ignore the tone and still keep pressing the buttons. On a third test I had to press the left button when I heard bits of different conversations and the right button when the conversations stopped.
All these tests really tired me and I found them taxing. This is because I was required to go as quickly as possible so they could measure the exact speed of my reaction time, and how the voices interfered with my tasks.
The MRI tests
The darkness and narrowness of the MRI tunnel was one of my biggest concerns. I wasn’t sure how I would cope for two one hour blocks while my brain was being scanned. However the whole experience proved really worthwhile. I was made to do the same cognitive tests as the MEG, which I was now familiar with. I even felt myself stretching out and relaxing in the almost warm, tight cosy tunnel. I also enjoyed being the centre of attention with the researchers and technicians surrounding me.
Doing the research study was a very rewarding experience. It really got me thinking as I concentrated on the tasks, trying to do everything as quickly and accurately as possible. In many ways it was a real challenge to get through the whole study but I felt I got top marks for doing it, especially by diving head first into the unknown.
It also helped me overcome many fears. Thanks to the study I felt my ability to follow directions and do cognitive tasks was much improved. I would definitely recommend this study to anyone who is interested in exploring how hearing voices can impact on people doing cognitive tasks. I look forward to doing more paid studies of a similar nature
The study is expected to run for another six to 12 months. If you would like to participate, or get in contact with the people running it, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact them on (03) 9076 5172.