Integrating Hands On Research Opportunities in Introductory Psychology Classes

Posted on November 18th, 2016 by

Dr. Lauren Hecht is a cognitive psychologist and the primary investigator in the Vision Lab within the Perception and Attention (PAtt) Labs. This semester she is teaching general psychology, and is using this opportunity to incorporate student research into the course.

The psychological science department is aiming to incorporate more lab experiences into the classroom in order to emphasize methodology through a scientific approach. Professor Hecht wanted to design a lab in one of her areas of expertise and on a topic they had already studied in class, so she decided on taste.

From previous work in class, the students had learned that there is a spectrum of taste ability, meaning some people are better at tasting than others. For their study, they were specifically interested in the different ways miracle fruit would affect people with higher tasting abilities compared to lower tasting abilities. Miracle fruit is a plant known for its berry that, when eaten, causes sour foods (such as lemons and limes) consumed to taste sweet.taste-lab

The class hypothesized that super tasters, people with more taste buds, will be subject to more change from sour to sweet with the miracle fruit. They began the study by filling out demographic surveys and taste behaviors surveys, as well as tongue dyeing to identify the count of taste buds to determine taster status. They also tasted test strips because the Phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) on the strips, a compound that non tasters do not taste, will be bitter for anyone with taste ability above non tasters. Then they moved to the next stage where the students were amazed.

After tasting a sour or acidic food such as lemon or lime juice or salt and vinegar chips, they took a miracle fruit tablet and tried the food again. “They were floored by miracle fruit. Students would drink some lemon or lime juice, and the tablet would make the juice taste like the sugary lemonade you would get at a fair,” commented Professor Hecht.

The study was extremely successful with the department’s goal of integrating experimental methodology of research into the classes. Professor Hecht said that through this way of teaching, “it makes more sense for them, and they think more critically.” Not only does this approach of teaching scientific method engage the students more, it also gives Professor Hecht data that could potentially be incorporated into smaller upper level classes in the future.

Submitted by Ellyn Adelmann ‘18


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