Movies, Music and Memory: A Neuroscience Inquiry

Undergrad Will Use Funding to Probe Mysteries of the Unconscious

Jan. 29, 2008

Christopher Philip, a senior at The University of Texas at Dallas, has designed an original research project that delves deeply into the body’s unconscious to see how memory forms.

His experiment involves a series of 15-second, randomized video clips of movie scenes. Some of the videos show happy scenes with happy music underneath. Others are scary movie scenes accompanied by menacing scores.  At times the images and sounds are out of sync, happy scenes with scary music underneath and vice versa.

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Philip plans to measure a person’s heart rate and skin response to the video scenes. At the end of the show, he will ask his viewers to rate on a scale of 1 to 8 how powerful each image appeared to them and whether the clip elicited a positive or negative emotion. This will be followed by a memory test, which will assess whether people remember events that are together or out of sync.

“Hopefully this experiment will show us how the experiences that are unique to each person makes an impact on them and affects their memory,” says Philip, who is majoring in neuroscience and plans to go to medical school after graduating this spring. 

Philip designed the experiment to challenge current scientific ideas about memory.

For his research, Philip received $500 from the University’s Office of Research to cover his laboratory equipment, travel and other expenses. Twenty-one other UT Dallas undergraduates also received funds from the new Undergraduate Research Scholar Award program.

Nationwide tens of thousands of undergraduates are performing original research.  Studies find that undergraduate students learn and grow significantly from the experience.  They need strong mentors, however, which is why the UT Dallas program also awards faculty mentors $300 to supervise their work.  Philip’s faculty mentor is Dr. Walter Dowling, a professor in the School of Behavior and Brain Sciences.

“You only learn a limited amount of how research works from reading about it. When you get engaged in a project, the theories and methods and data analyses that you’ve read about, come alive and make sense,” said Dr. Dowling, whose own research looks at how music affects the brain. “There’s a big difference between working out exercises in statistics class and trying to understand what the data you collected yourself is telling you.”

Program administrators say the benefits to students are many: they see first-hand how science is done, become familiar with the inside of a laboratory and enjoy the thrill of self-discovery – as well as its frustrations as when an experiment does not yield neat answers.  Equally important are the relationships the students develop with faculty and graduate students.

“Ultimately the interaction with faculty and senior staff can be invaluable to an undergraduate and provide them with career guidance and references,” said Dr. Bruce Gnade, vice president for research at UT Dallas.


Media Contact: Meredith Dickenson, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2293, meredith.dickenson@utdallaas.edu
or Jenni Huffenberger, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4431, jennib@utdallas.edu

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