Birmingham ERP Boot Camp

Last week I attended a 5-day ERP Boot Camp at the University of Birmingham, and this was an incredible opportunity for me to learn from ERP experts and get specific advice for running my next ERP experiments. The workshop was led by two of the most renowned ERP researchers in the world, namely Professor Steven Luck and Dr Emily Kappenman. Luck and Kappenman are both part of the Centre for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis, which is one of the world’s leading centres for research into cognitive neuroscience. They are both among the set of researchers who set the publicationjen workshop blog 1 guidelines and recommendations for conducting EEG research (Keil et al. 2014), and Luck is also the developer of ERPLAB, which is a MATLAB Toolbox designed specifically for ERP data analysis. Moreover, Luck is the author of the authoritative book entitled An Introduction to the Event-Related Potential Technique. Before attending the ERP Boot Camp, most of the knowledge that I had about ERPs came from this book. Therefore, I am extremely grateful that I have had this opportunity to learn from the authorities in the field, especially since Luck and Kappenman bring the ERP Boot Camp to the University of Birmingham just once every three years.

There were two parts to the ERP Boot Camp: 2.5 days of lectures covering the theoretical aspects of ERP research (led by Steven Luck), and 2.5 days of practical workshops which involved demonstrations of the main data acquisition and analysis steps, followed by independent data analysis work using ERPLAB (led by Emily Kappenman). Day 1 of the Boot Camp provided an overview of different experimental paradigms and different ERP components, which are defined as voltage changes that reflect a particular neural or psychological process (e.g. the N400 component reflects the processing of meaning and the P600 component reflects the processing of structure). Most of the electrical activity in the brain that can be detected by scalp electrodes comes from the surface of the cortex but, in the lecture on ERP components, I was amazed to find out that there are some ERP components that actually reflect brain stem activity. These components are known as auditory brainstem responses. I also learnt about how individual differences between participants are typically the result of differences in cortical folding and differences in skull thickness, rather than reflecting any functional differences, and I learnt how ERP components from one domain such as language can be used to illuminate psychological processes in other domains such as memory. From this first day at the Boot Camp, I started to gain a much deeper conceptual understanding of the theoretical basis of ERP research, causing me to think of questions that hadn’t even occurred to me before.

Day 2 of the Boot Camp covered the principles of electricity and magnetism, the practical steps involved in processing an EEG dataset, and the most effective ways of circumventing and minimizing the problems that are inevitably faced by all ERP researchers. On this day I also learnt the importance of taking ERP measurements from difference waves rather than from the raw ERP waveforms. This is invaluable knowledge to have when analysing the data from my next experiments. In addition, I gained some concrete advice on stimulus presentation which I will take into account when editing my stimuli.

On day 3 of the Boot Camp, we were shown examples of ‘bad’ experimental designs and we were asked to identify the factors that made them problematic. Similarly, we discussed how to identify problematic results just by looking at the waveforms. These was really useful exercises in helping me to critically evaluate ERP studies, which will be useful both when reading published articles and when thinking about my own experimental design.

From the outset of the Boot Camp, we were encouraged to ask questions at any time, andJen workshop blog 2 this was particularly useful when it came to the practical sessions as we were able to use our own data and ask specific questions relating to our own experiments. I came prepared with questions that I had wanted to know the answers to for a long time, as well as additional questions that I had thought of throughout the Boot Camp, and I was given clear answers to every one of these questions.

Furthermore, as well as acquiring both theoretical and practical knowledge from the scheduled lectures and workshops, I also gained a lot from talking to the other ERP researchers who were attending the Boot Camp. A large proportion of attendees focused on language as their main research area, while others focused on clinical psychology or other areas of psychology such as memory or perception. I found it really interesting to hear the differences of opinion between those who were primarily linguists and those who were primarily psychologists. For instance, when discussing the word-by-word presentation of sentences in ERP experiments, the psychologists stated that each word should immediately replace the previous word, whereas the linguists concluded that it is best to present a blank white screen between each word. Conversations such as this made it very apparent that many of the aspects of ERP research are not standardised, and so it is up to the researcher to decide what is best for their experiment based on what is known about ERPs and what is conventional in their particular area of research.

Attending this ERP Boot Camp was a fantastic opportunity to learn from some of the best ERP researchers in the world. I now have a much more thorough understanding of the theoretical basis of ERP research, and I have an extensive list of practical suggestions that I can apply to my next experiments. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the workshop and I am very grateful to CASS for funding the trip.

Workshop on Corpus Linguistics in Ghana

Back in 2014, a team from CASS ran a well-received introductory workshop on Corpus Linguistics in Accra, Ghana – a country where Lancaster University has a number of longstanding academic partnerships and has recently established a campus.

We’re pleased to announce that in February of this year, we will be returning to Ghana and running two more introductory one-day events. Both events are free to attend, each consisting of a series of introductory lectures and practical sessions on topics in corpus linguistics and the use of corpus tools.

Since the 2014 workshop was attended by some participants from a long way away, this time we are running events in two different locations in Ghana. The first workshop, on Tuesday 23rd February 2016, will be in Cape Coast, organised jointly with the University of Cape Coast: click this link for details. The second workshop, on  Friday 26th February 2016, will be in Legon (nr. Accra), organised jointly with the University of Ghana: click this link for details. The same material will be covered at both workshops.

The workshop in 2014 was built largely around the use of our online corpus tools, particularly CQPweb. In the 2016 events, we’re going to focus instead on a pair of programs that you can run on your own computer to analyse your own data: AntConc and GraphColl. For that reason we will be encouraging participants who have their own corpora to bring them along to analyse in the workshop. These can be in any language – not just English! Don’t worry however – we will also provide sample datasets that participants who don’t have their own data can work with.

We invite anyone in Ghana who wants to learn more about the versatile methodology for language analysis that is corpus linguistics to attend! While the events are free, registration in advance is required, as places are limited.

Changing Climates and the Media: Lancaster workshop

climate change workshopThe Lancaster workshop on Changing Climates and the Media took place last Monday (21st Sep 2015).  This was a joint event organised by the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS) and the Department of Sociology, Lancaster University.

The workshop brought together leading academics from a wide range of disciplines – sociology, media studies, political and environmental sciences, psychology, and linguistics – as well as community experts from the Environment Agency and the Green Alliance. The result was a lively debate on the interaction between the news media and the British society, and a critical reflection on people’s perception of the problem and effective ways to communicate the issue and promote changes in behaviour and practices.

Professor John Urry from Lancaster University opened the event with a brief overview of the major challenges posed by climate change. He also introduced the CASS project on Changing Climates, a corpus-based research on how climate change issues have been debated in the British and Brazilian news media in the past decade. This contrastive analysis is interesting for various reasons. These include striking differences related to public perception of the problem. While climate-change scepticism is prominent within the public debate in Britain, Brazil is a leading country in terms of concern about climate change, with nine-in-ten Brazilians considering global warming a very serious problem. Dr Carmen Dayrell presented some examples of fundamental differences between the media debate in these two countries. Unlike the British press, Brazilian newspapers articulate the discourse along the same lines as those advocated by the IPCC. This includes stressing the position of developed and developing nations and the projected consequences of the impact of climate change on the Earth’s system, such as the melting of polar icefields, loss of biodiversity and increased frequency of extreme weather events.

The Changing Climates project is currently being extended to Germany and Italy. Dr Marcus Müller from the Technische Universität Darmstadt discussed his preliminary findings on how the German news media has represented climate change issues. Dr M. Cristina Caimotto and Dr Osman Arrobbio from the University of Turin presented their initial observations of the Italian context and data. The Changing Climates presentation concluded with insightful comments by Dr Glenn Watts, the Environment Agency’s research lead on climate change and resource use and Lancaster’s primary partner in the Changing Climates project.

The afternoon session explored climate change from various perspectives. It started with Professor Reiner Grundmann from University of Nottingham who presented corpus research on the media coverage of climate change across Britain, Germany, France and the US. Dr James Painter from the University of Oxford and Dr Neil Gavin from the University of Liverpool focused on the coverage of the UN IPCC reports in the news media and television respectively.

The focus then turned to the British parliament and the 2009 debate on the Climate Change Bill. How do politicians talk about climate change in public? This question was addressed by Rebecca Willis, a PhD candidate at Lancaster University and a member of the Green Alliance. Following that, Dr Neil Simcock, also from Lancaster University, explored the representations of ‘essential’ energy use in the UK media. The session concluded with Professor Alison Anderson from Plymouth University’s talk on the role of local news media in communicating climate change issues.

Our sincere thanks to all participants of the Lancaster workshop for making it a unique and very special event. This was an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas and share experiences which we hope will foster enhanced collaboration between the various disciplines.

 

CASS Corpus Linguistics workshop at the University of Caxias do Sul (UCS, Brazil)

Last month at UCS (Brazil), the CASS Corpus Linguistics workshop found a receptive audience who participated actively and enthusiastically engaged in the discussion. The workshop was run from 27-28 May by CASS members Elena Semino, Vaclav Brezina and Carmen Dayrell, and perfectly organised by the local committee Heloísa Feltes and Ana Pelosi.

Organizers

From left to right: Carmen Dayrell, Heloísa Feltes, Vaclav Brezina, Elena Semino, and Ana Pelosi

This workshop brought together lecturers, researchers, PhDs and MA research students from various Brazilian universities. It was a positive, invigorating experience for the CASS team and a golden opportunity to discuss the various applications of corpus linguistics methods. We would like to thank UCS for offering all necessary conditions to make this workshop run so smoothly.

The workshop was part of a collaborative project between UK and Brazilian scholars funded by the UK’s ESRC and the Brazilian research agency CONFAP (FAPERGS) which will make use of corpus linguistics techniques to investigate the linguistic representation of urban violence in Brazil. Further details of this project can be found at http://cass.lancs.ac.uk/?page_id=1501.

Workshop on ‘Metaphor in end of life care’ at St Joseph’s Hospice, London

On 26th September 2014, three members of the CASS-affiliated ‘Metaphor in end of life care’ project team were invited to run a workshop at St Joseph’s Hospice in London. The workshop was attended by 27 participants, including clinical staff, non-clinical staff and volunteers.

Veronika Koller (Lancaster University) introduced the project, including its background, rationale, research questions, data and use of corpus methods in combination with qualitative analysis. Zsófia Demjén (The Open University) and Elena Semino (Lancaster University) presented the findings from the project that are particularly relevant to communication between healthcare professionals and patients nearing the end of their lives. These findings include: how patients diagnosed with terminal cancer use Violence and Journey metaphors to talk about their experiences of illness and treatment; and how patients and healthcare professionals use a variety of metaphors to talk about their mutual relationships. The project team pointed out the different ‘framings’ provided by different uses of metaphor, particularly in terms of the empowerment and disempowerment of patients. They provided evidence that no metaphor is inherently good or bad for all patients, but rather suggested that different metaphors work differently for different people, or even for the same person at different times. In the final session, Veronika Koller introduced the ‘Metaphor Menu’ – a collection of metaphors used by cancer sufferers, which the team are planning to pilot as a resource for newly-diagnosed patients.

A lively discussion followed each presentation, with many members of the audience asking questions and contributing their personal and professional experiences. The workshop received very positive evaluations in anonymous feedback questionnaires: 83% of participants rated the session at 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale (where 1 corresponds to ‘Very poor’ and 5 to ‘Excellent’). Comments included: Very interesting research & resonated with my experience. Food for thought!’ and ‘Will help with my area of care, will help me understand and think about what my patients and relatives are actually telling me. Will make me reflect and respond more appropriately’.