Research Profile: Isabel Taake, Psychology

May 01, 2012

Congratulations to Isabel Taake, a PhD student in the Department of Psychology, who has just received a grant of $105,000 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to support the next three years of her research. 

This isn't her first major award. In 2010, she received a Graduate Medal in Psychology from the British Columbia Psychological Association, and a Cluster Award for $80,000 from Mitacs Accelerate's BC Graduate Internship Program.

She works in the Laboratory of Affective and Developmental Neuroscience (LADN) under the supervision of Dr. Mario Liotti. She says, "I've been working with Dr. Liotti since I was a third year undergraduate student. I use a multi-modality approach, employing behavioral measures such as cognitive psychology tasks, and high density brain electrical recordings (ERPs). I have worked on establishing two lines of research, generally focusing on the study of the interplay of cognition and emotion: My first area of expertise are the neuropsychological and cognitive deficits associated with anxiety. We have now demonstrated in a few studies that high trait anxiety is associated with attentional biases towards threat."

Her second line of research, and the one for which she received the awards, came when she received a Mitacs Accelerate Internship award. The program connects graduate students with companies with the goal of carrying out a real-world research project.

She says, "I was partnered with Mediative, (formerly Enquiro Search Solutions), a digital marketing agency specializing in search engine optimization based in Kelowna, BC. We developed a project that investigated the neural correlates of preference and memory for everyday products. One of our main findings was that preferred products are remembered better, and evoke greater activity in the brain during a very early time period (100–450 msec), which might be an index of increased attention, a fact, that might play a role in consumers’ buying decisions. (A consumer-level explanation can be found in this blog post: The 150 Millisecond Gap: The Timing of Brand Love. The summary: Her research found that if you encounter a brand you love, your brain responds in a very similar way to seeing a familiar face.)

This work led not only to her master's thesis, The influence of preference on the neural correlates of memory, and an extension of her internship, but also to several conference presentations both at Neuroscience and Marketing meetings.

She adds, "Our collaboration with Mediative has been so successful that they offered to continue to fund me through my PhD career, so I am the current project manager for a cluster of an additional six internships, that involve two other SFU Masters students, and Mediative collaborators in Toronto and Kelowna. Together we investigate the brain activity and eye-movements of participants in a series of studies, that will explore automatic and controlled attention to product stimuli presented above and below the perceptual threshold. Mediative will use the knowledge gained from the findings to help its clients utilize online advertising channels more effectively."

Apart from the research at SFU, she was also heavily involved in two market research studies that Mediative has conducted abroad. They were able to take advantage of the fact that she's bilingual, and she was responsible for interacting with over 100 study participants in a German research facility, the analysis of the data, and co-presentation of the results to the clients.

She concludes, "I am quite confident to say that my partnership with Mitacs and Mediative has given me invaluable experiences that I would have never had otherwise, and a competitive advantage because I got to know the field of real-world, industry research, which can be quite different from the work we do at academic institutions."

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