déjà vu
déjà vu (Photo credit: steve loya)

In what feels like a former life, I did a fair amount of research on déjà vu. In fact, it’s the domain in which I cut my psychological teeth,  learned about the importance of good experiment design, and was eventually awarded a PhD.

One of the sadnesses of déjà vu research is that, although the sensation is so utterly intriguing, it is very difficult to experimentally generate (though see Anne Cleary’s work, particularly this paper). This has led people interested in déjà vu to try coming at it from a few different angles, including hypnosis,  caloric stimulation* and, of course, drugs, drugs and more drugs. But, given its infrequent occurrence and its fairly memorable nature (a blessing and a curse, see below), the most consistently successful approach to studying the experience has been to use questionnaires.

Christine Wells, a collaborator and friend of mine at the University of Leeds is currently looking for people to complete her online questionnaire on anxiety, dissociative experiences and déjà vu.  One of the nice departures from the standard questionnaire format, afforded by its online administration, is that you fill in Part 1 at your leisure, and the much shorter Part 2 as soon as possible after your next déjà vu experience. This is  a really neat feature of the research, as it goes some way towards minimising the clichés that may be swamping our memories of déjà vu experiences, when assessed weeks and months after we have had them.

If you would like to take part in the research and are aged 18 or over, the following links may be of use:

Part 1: Anxiety, dissociative experiences and déjà vu questionnaire (takes approx. 20 mins):
www.psyc.leeds.ac.uk/q/anxietydejavu

Part 2: Follow-up questionnaire for after your next déjà vu experience (takes approx. 5 mins):
www.psyc.leeds.ac.uk/q/anxietydejavu2

Sure, filling in the questionnaires won’t leave you feeling anything like this guy, but that’s probably a good thing ( I wouldn’t wish an experience I could liken to the movie Hellraiser on anyone!).  What it will do, is contribute to scientific understanding by telling us a little bit more about how people evaluate their déjà vu experiences.

* that’s ‘squirting water in someone’s ear’ to the layman

University of Leeds, Parkinson Building with t...
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Last week, for the first time in just under than three years, I visited the Institute of Psychological Sciences at the University of Leeds.  On Thursday attended the Greater Yorkshire Memory Meeting and the next day, with Clare Rathbone of Reading, gave a seminar on some research and our experiences of postdoctoral study.

It was great to see some old faces and great to be back in a city I know well.  The trip was also timely, giving me the opportunity of a long train journey down on which to read plenty of journal articles and devote some time to thinking about research.  But what I got most from the trip was a tremendous appreciation of the  enthusiasm, intelligence and endeavour of the PhD students I encountered.  It was quite wonderful to speak with them about their research and to get a sense of the plasticity of their approaches to science.  They aren’t yet ‘world-expert researchers of X’ or ‘wed to theory Y’ , but are revelling in the acquisition of expertise… it’s a very exciting time of their careers and as a result they are invigorating people to speak to.

It got me thinking about the formation of my own lab.  Whilst the UK system doesn’t generally allow for the self-contained modular lab that I so enjoyed being a part of in the US, working with people you look forward to encountering and speaking to on a daily basis would undoubtedly inoculate you against some of the increasingly prevalent sadnesses of the British University system (which has already started encroaching on the student experience despite assertions from the coalition government that it wouldn’t, e.g. through the cancellation of student assessment due to paper shortages).  I look forward to taking on PhD students with as much enthusiasm as those I encountered in Leeds – I just hope that those who are good enough to make a difference to society through research aren’t forced away from a postgraduate career by the “fair and affordable” system that will see them in up to £27,000 of debt from tuition fees alone before they even contemplate another three years of study.