[FUN_Mail] Requesting input on physiological data acquisition systems

Harrington, Ian ianharrington at augustana.edu
Wed Apr 16 11:35:53 EDT 2014

Hi Everyone,

For years we have been depending on an aging pair of BioPac data
acquisition systems for student and some faculty research (one is so old it
requires an adapter to allow it to communicate via the modern technology of
USB). We tend not to use these systems for the "canned" student activities
other than when we host high school students for 2-day summer sessions. But
we are now sitting on quotes for replacement systems from AD Instruments
and iWorx, and need to make a decision soon before appealing to the
administration for funding. We'd love any input this community could
provide so, if you think you could help, read on!

*Our Needs:* The work we have been, and will continue to be, doing is
largely cognitive and affective neuroscience, and would involve
physiological measures like EEG and skin conductance, as well as eye
tracking (possibly). We are also interested in the possibility of doing
some extracellular recording for classroom demonstration purposes.

*The Problem: *The limitation of our existing BioPac systems is that we
can't easily *coordinate* stimulus presentation and data sampling. Our
stimuli (e.g., text, images, movies, or sounds) can be presented reasonably
well using MediaLab and DirectRT, so that's not really a problem. Our
work-around for the physiological measures, however, involves having the
researcher add manual event markers to a continuous data record and then go
back and manually extract the relevant data values. These physiological
data are then coordinated with behavioral measures tracked by MediaLab and
DirectRT. Sub-optimal, right?

*The Options:* 1. We have seen the AD Instruments systems in action (at FUN
workshops, for example) and assume that we can do all of what we'd like to
do, behaviorally and physiologically, with a PowerLab system and the
SuperLab software. If we're being overly optimistic or naïve here please
let us know. The downside, of course, is that these systems are quite

2. We had a recent visit from an iWorx sales rep and came to appreciate
their system as an alternative to BioPac best suited for canned
labs/activities. However, when we told the rep that we wanted to be able to
use their systems with more complicated behavioral and stimulation
protocols, he told us that it works with an open-source experiment builder
called OpenSesame (
but he was light on details. The iWorx website does include an experiment
on the Stroop Effect that uses OpenSesame (
The attractions of the iWorx system include cost and ease of use. The
concern is that if we made this more modest investment we might just end up
in a position similar to the one we're in now with BioPac.

*The Appeal:* Does anyone have experience using iWorx systems in the way we
would hope to use them? In particular, has anyone successfully used the
OpenSesame platform for behavioral and physiological data acquisition? Are
there downsides to the AD Instruments platform, other than expense, that we
are missing? If you have successfully integrated either of these systems
into your teaching and research, especially at smaller liberal arts
institutions, we'd love to have comments to that effect that we might use
in our appeal to the administration for funding. Likewise, if there are
other avenues you might suggest exploring, we'd love to hear about them too.

With thanks in advance,


*Ian A. Harrington, Ph.D.*

Augustana College, Psychology

Director, Program in Neuroscience

639 38th St., Rock Island, IL 61201

011 Evald Hall, (309) 794-7243

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