Faculty Name:
Jack Silcox


Faculty College:
Social & Behavioral Science


Project Description:

**This project is a part of the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which provides undergraduate students with an intensive 10-week research experience under the mentorship of a University of Utah faculty member. SPUR 2021 begins on May 26 and ends on August 5. If you are interested in this project, please review all program information on the SPUR site. If you wish to apply to this project, you must apply using the SPUR 2021 application.**

Most of us are familiar with driving down the road while chatting with a passenger. The ease and regularity by which we both drive and listen to speech belie the computational complexities that underly these two different tasks. Speakers produce 140-180 words per minute and often blend words together, requiring the speaker to normalize and process the speech almost instantaneously. Much research has shown that when speech is degraded, either by environmental noise or hearing impairment, successful comprehension decreases, and memory outcomes are worse. Driving does not simply involve muscle memory. It requires the driver to stay vigilant and be aware of and adapt to a changing environment. A profusion of empirical evidence has shown that driving performance drastically decreases as a driver’s attention is split between multiple tasks, such as texting. Indeed, one study has found that talking on the phone while driving resulted in impaired performance that was similar to driving while being intoxicated at the legal limit. The effects of distraction on driving performance and the effects of degraded speech on comprehension have been well documented. However, it is less clear how listening to perceptually challenging speech while driving affects the cognitive processes associated with either process. Does listening to acoustically degraded speech while driving reduce a listener’s ability to remember the content of the speech? Does driving performance suffer more when listening to degraded speech versus nondegraded speech? To answer these and related questions, we will be conducting lab-based listening effort experiments in a driving simulator.

Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position

Student Role:

SPUR students who work in our lab will be involved in many aspects of the research process, including stimulus development, participant recruitment, data collection and analysis. Our lab uses a multimodal approach to studying language processes and has access to a wide range of research tools. For this project, the student will be using a state-of-the-art driving simulator for running experiments. In addition, the student will be conducting neuropsychological assessments looking at verbal fluency, vocabulary, and working memory capacity. They will also be administering hearing assessments, including pure tone audiometry and speech reception threshold tests. While participants perform drive in the simulator and complete speech comprehension tasks the student will be collecting continuous EEG and pupil size data and additionally collect behavioral responses. The student will be expected to present behavioral findings in lab meetings and at university level research conferences. Remote Contingency Plan: If circumstances do not allow for in-lab data collection then the SPUR student would participate in guided secondary data analyses from conceptually related experiments. These analyses would be looking at both EEG and behavioral data from speech processing experiments. This would afford the student to become familiar with more advanced statistical techniques and would give the opportunity to learn how to use statistical computing software such as R and Matlab. These advanced data analysis skills would be invaluable to any student wishing to have a more research-focused career.

Student Benefits:

As this project requires data collection using multiple methodologies, SPUR students will be trained in and gain experience with all of these techniques. Students will gain skills in operating and using a driving simulator for data collection, setting up a participant with an EEG system, collecting high quality EEG data, calibrating and using an eye tracker, and collecting and summarizing behavioral data. A SPUR student would also gain experience in administering several different neuropsychological and hearing assessments. The experience on this project would be ideal for undergraduates looking to apply for graduate programs in human factors, psycholinguistics, neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, and psychology. The SPUR student would also be expected to give a presentation in one of our lab meetings. This will be a good opportunity to get experience presenting scientific findings.

Project Duration:

35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 26, 2021, and ends August 5, 2021

Minimum Requirements:

Admission to the program is competitive. Applicants must meet all of the following criteria: 1) be a matriculated, degree-seeking undergraduate student in the Fall 2021 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2021 and not graduating before December 2021; concurrent enrollment while in high school does not meet this eligibility requirement). Applicants do not need to be a University of Utah student. 2) eligible to work in the United States: If you are a University of Utah Dreamer (with or without DACA), you are eligible to participate. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but might not be able to be compensated. For more information, please contact Megan Shannahan at megan.shannahan@utah.edu or 801-581-2478. If you are an international student or scholar, you must either a) be a degree-seeking undergraduate student at an American institution of higher education and verify with your institution’s international center that your visa allows you to participate in this program, OR b) possess documentation that establishes your eligibility to work in the United States (if you hold US citizenship, it is likely you have these documents). 3) able to commit to approximately 35-40 hours per week of employment at the University of Utah for the entire duration of the program (May 26-August 5, 2021). 4) at least 18 years old by May 24, 2021 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing). Please note that no previous college coursework or previous research experience is required.