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By Howard Iver Thorsheim, Ph.D., St. Olaf College

“Hard” and “soft” research skills combine well with Biopac Student Lab Lessons; for example:

  • Working as members of cooperative-learning teams;
  • Learning about basic psychophysiological measures;
  • Organizing supplies;
  • Following a protocol to greet a participant;
  • Explaining proposed procedure, and obtaining written informed consent using a form they draft;
  • Preparing participant, placing electrodes, and manipulating independent variables;
  • Debriefing participant;
  • Analyzing and graphing results;
  • Writing up research results in APA format.

Since the goal is learning skills for thinking, many of the usual requirements for rigorous research headed for publication can be relaxed for beginning students. This can motivate students for advanced student research honors projects or faculty/student research. Some examples of requirements that can be relaxed include naive participants (team members can serve as experimental participants in each other’s explorations—availability samples), sample sizes large enough to attain statistical power (instead two or three can be sufficient), and random assignment to conditions.

Learning to think as scientists think is empowering and drives this process, and some examples include students thinking about:

  • Articles of interest students find in data base searches that lead to their own research questions to explore;
  • Which psychophysiological measures they have practiced would provide information to help them learn more about their research question;
  • What they want their participants to do;
  • Key issues of experimental and statistical control, and
  • Any other equipment or supplies they might need to arrange for in addition to what is available within the limitations of available apparatus and facilities.

Before they may proceed, beginning students present their thinking on such issues to me as their consultant.

I provide a rubric with many tips, such as noting what they observed during the experiment that could have unintentionally influenced the results, describing strengths and limitations of their conclusions based on their findings, and answering the “So what?” question to extend their findings into their own life and think about the implications such findings might have for them.

See following for more ideas for teaching empirical research skills to help students think as scientists think, with research support:

Thorsheim, H. I. (2015). Experimental psychology. In D. S. Dunn (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Undergraduate Psychology Education. New York: Oxford University Press, 387-401. (Focus is.)

Learn more about BIOPAC’s education solutions, including complete teaching systems for psychophysiology and the life sciences. BIOPAC also provides a wide range of research systems for recording, displaying, classifying, and analyzing psychophysiological measurements.

BIOPAC Systems, Inc. provides life science researchers and educators with data acquisition and analysis systems that inspire people and enable greater discovery about life. Visit us at

Professor Thorsheim is a licensed Psychologist, educator, and author. He has published or presented over 125 papers, journal articles, books, book chapters or monographs, and received a patent in 1985 as a co-inventor for an educational book design with interactive elements. His work has been funded by marquee foundations across the globe. His most recent work is Doing Psychophysiology: Getting Started, available from Knowledge Growers, Inc., available as an iBook download in 51 countries.

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