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James BursleyJames Bursley

Major: Psychology, B.S.        Year: Senior             Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA

Honors: Representing CMU at Undergraduate Research at the Capitol in Fall 2010, Member of Psi Chi International Honor Society in Psychology, H&SS Dean's List (Fall 2008, Spring 2009, Fall 2009, Spring 2010), National Merit Scholarship Finalist, National Honor Society

Project title: "Neural Mechanisms of Unconscious Thought in Decision Making"
Type of Support
: SURF

When did you become involved in undergraduate research at CMU?  I first got involved in David Creswell's lab during the spring of my freshman year.  After spending some time doing data entry and helping out with other people's experiments, I had the opportunity to design the present brain imaging experiment with David, and have continued to create and carry out related imaging and behavioral studies with him.

How did you find your mentor?  After speaking to a few researchers whose work interested me, I decided to work with David Creswell, as he seemed extremely open to new ideas and the pursuit of different and divergent avenues of research, and he appeared to be extremely invested in the academic and research-related success of his students.  Even though much of his prior work was not directly relevant to the research I hoped to ultimately pursue, he seemed eager to explore new directions and ideas in a wide variety of research areas.

How has your idea/project evolved through the academic years?  This research can be seen as the convergence of two distinct lines of research:  one based in social psychology and the decision sciences and one based in neuroscience.  I view this work as being the tentative establishment of a bridge between these two research avenues, an initial step that will hopefully encourage future work in this nascent area.  I had read the literature covering the former line of research before I knew of the existence of the latter, so my thinking and ideas on the current work were initially fairly simple and constrained.  Once I became aware of the potential relevance of my current work to the latter research line, I realized the present research could have far greater significance than I had initially appreciated, and my thinking on the subject changed to incorporate and integrate both avenues of work.

What successes or difficulties have you encountered in this project or others?  There were numerous initial setbacks related to the challenges of adapting our experimental paradigm for use in an MRI scanning environment, and the additional challenges associated with fine-tuning our procedures to produce the expected behavioral results were myriad.  The bulk of this tweaking was conducted prior to any confirmation that we would detect meaningful brain activation, so not knowing if the phenomenon we were pursuing was even real became more than a bit nerve-wracking at times.  Once we had overcome these challenges and had begun to detect brain activity that was decidedly related to our hypotheses, though, the feeling of reward (and relief) was immense.

If you could summarize your experience in one word, what would it be?  Sleeplessness