When I signed up to be a subject in a research study about how food is related to brain activity, I just thought it’d be an interesting way for 15-year-old me to make some quick money.
I didn’t know I was signing up for a longitudinal study, that I wouldn’t be done with the whole process until I turned 19.
But this summer I completed my fourth and final wave of tasks. I’ve finished my first research study.
While the money is relatively “easy” (in that I don’t have to work that hard for a nice sum), the number of tasks involved is substantial.
Each year I had two appointments. The first was in their office, where I filled out questionnaires about what I’d eaten over the past two weeks and how I felt about myself/my body image.
Meanwhile, a researcher interrupted me multiple times with three cups of either red Kool-Aid or chocolate milk, and asked which of the nearly-identical drinks tasted different than the other two. It’s tough, especially with Kool-Aid–at least with chocolate milk, I can remember which is more chocolatey or creamy or sweet–but Kool-Aid just tastes like Kool-Aid.
Next I rated pictures of foods on a scale from most appetizing to least appetizing. My photography background made it hard to separate the deliciousness of the food from the quality of the photo, but it was doable.
The second appointment took place at the hospital. I filled out more questionnaires about how I think/act in different situations (i.e. impulsive vs. calculated), my phase of development, and my emotional health. And then I did more taste tests, comparing different chocolate milks to each other and rating creaminess, sweetness, familiarity, and intensity of flavor.
Next the researchers scanned my brain during an MRI while I did more tasks: looking at those same food photos and imagining what they’d taste like, tasting drops of chocolate milk and water through a tube, and “button tasks” where I clicked a button when I saw pictures of vegetables (vs. pictures of desserts) in the first round and vice versa in the second round.
Ultimately, I really enjoyed my experience as a research subject. It’s something different than the day-to-day routine, it makes you feel like you’re part of something, and the money is a nice perk.
Plus I got these awesome pictures of my brain. What’s not to love?