Reflection on the Lab Experiment Team

This semester, I was on the lab experiment team. My job was the preparation of the video stimulus. This turned out to be a more difficult job than I was expecting.

The idea is that this stimulus will consists of a set of political videos and a set of apolitical videos. While the stimulus is presented to the subject, their physiological reaction will be monitored with the BioPac hardware.

The process obviously began with selecting videos. The main difficulties were in finding videos that were practically equivalent in their levels of contention while being varied in their political leanings, and to match them with equivalently contentious apolitical videos. It was easy, for instance, to find contentious videos over Obamacare, but considerably more difficult to find direct confrontation on, say, abortion.

An additional, unexpected hurdle this semester has been file compatibility. Videos are a tricky medium, file-type-wise. The world is just barely getting over the .avi file. Copyright holders are scrambling to prevent users from using old filetypes so they have to convert to newer ones and buy new copies of old content. But not all systems (web-based systems especially) are equipped to handle the newer filetypes that are replacing .avi and its older companions. In the end we had to work around this issue by uploading to youtube (which is up-to-date) and embedding our youtube uploads instead of embedding the file natively.

Anyway, we ended up with, politically, two Obamacare clips, a clip from Occupy Wall Street, and a clip from a pro-choice rally, and apolitically, two Jerry Springer Show clips, an altercation between UC Berkeley students and police, and an Atheism v. Intelligent design debate.

To get the strongest, most measurable results, we had people watch and code for the most contentious portions of the videos. We cut the videos down to just these segments (hoping to conserve participant time and prevent physiological responses from dwindling over the course of the stimulus). These snippets were pilot tested for equivalence on MTURK, and the most evenly matched three videos from each set were chosen.


As it stands, we now have six videos embedded in powerpoint presentations in both political first and apolitical first orders. These presentations are ready for pilot testing.



Here are the videos, if you want to check them out:

The Powerpoint presentations are on the shared drive.

On Quantitative Data, or How to Confound a Philosopher

“Suppose, now, that we wished so to organize our moral discourse that we did not accept the must implies ought principle…
In that case we would have both
and either
where “P” represents permission and is connected to obligatoriness by the rule
Op ≡ ~P~p” (Wilson, 1984, p. 54).

Until this lab, this was my idea of analysis. Coming out of high school with policy debate under my belt and a philosophy major in my sights, I had no idea that I would be manipulating numbers.  The closest I had gotten (or ever planned to get) to quantitative data was dealing in passing with “utility,” which even most steadfast utilitarians will readily admit is only quantifiable in principle.

When I found the website, I was excited. “Working in the SNaPP Lab is a great way to get experience conducting research to prepare you to conduct your own project. If you are interested in political behavior—and specifically in the role of innate dispositions, social networks, or social media to influence political behavior—you should consider getting involved in the lab” (“Projects,” 2014, Fostering Research Opportunities for Undergraduates section, para. 3). Innate dispositions! Social networks! Political behavior! RESEARCH EXPERIENCE!!! It was everything I wanted to explore academically that wasn’t strictly philosophy. It couldn’t have been better.

Somehow, though, I missed just how quantitative it all was. I missed every mention of R, every mention of data, every mention of statistical analysis. Honestly, I don’t know what I thought the lab did; I was just sort of blindly excited about it. Had I read deeper, and had I realized the data focus, I may have been too scared to apply.

For maybe the first time in my life, I’m glad I didn’t read very deeply. Missing out on this would have been a horrible mistake.

While statistical analysis isn’t exactly my passion now, I find myself engaging with scholarship I never would have before. Quantitative linguistics papers about word distribution in childhood input, papers about quantitative analysis of incidence of cosmological properties in possible string-theory worlds… The list goes on. This experience has opened me up to a whole new type of scholarship, across disciplines, which prior to participation in this lab, I was not capable of appreciating.


While the year in SNaPP Lab wasn’t at all what I was expecting (due to my failure to read), I am glad it turned out the way it did, and I’m glad to have the year of experience. It’s been a great one.



Projects (2014). Retrieved 4 May 2014 from

Wilson, F. (1984). Hume’s cognitive stoicism. Hume Studies10, 52-68. Retrieved from