How do people understand big numbers that are hard to conceptualize?
In David Landy’s psychology lab, students are publishing research to explore why these numbers are so difficult to understand, said sophomore Megan Delaunay.
This past summer, Delaunay worked 30 to 40 hours a week on number representation, she said. She would go out to Short Pump with an iPad, approach strangers and ask them to transcode numbers – to take numbers written in plain English and rewrite them into standard arabic numbers.
About half of the participants made at least one error somewhere within the eight problems, she said, and a vast majority of errors involved a missing zero.
“I like the freedom,” Delaunay said. “When you do a project for a class there are more deadlines and specification. When it comes to research, especially with Dr. Landy, these are general overarching themes, and you can take them anywhere you want and do any study you want.”
Delaunay said that this was the first time anyone had done any of this type of transcoding research with adults.
This month, she is traveling to Minnesota with Landy for the Pyschonomic Society annual meeting where Landy will present their work, she said.
“One of the most important things you can do in research is go to meetings and meet the individuals involved,” Landy said. “This provides a perspective that is super important.”
In the psychology department, more than half of the students do research before they graduate, he said. In Landy’s lab, there are between 12 and 13 students actively performing research, he said, many of whom he has previously had in class.
During the summer, the time commitment is 40 hours a week, but during the school year it ranges from two to 20 hours, he said.
“The best way to understand a mindset is to be actively working in that mindset,” Landy said. “There are things you get by doing research that you just don’t get from the classroom.”
Senior Aleah Goldin, who has co-written papers with Landy, said the research had been a way of learning that differed from sitting in a classroom lecture.
“The beautiful thing about working in his lab is that he lets you do what you want to do,” Goldin said. “You can really do what you are passionate about.”
Because there are not graduate students at Richmond, undergraduates are doing the work that graduate students would do at other universities, she said.
“Words cannot describe it. … That just doesn’t happen elsewhere.”
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