Columnist roped in by marketing for ‘brain selfie’

Living in Bloomington means many opportunities for interesting experiences. There are ethnic restaurants, a variety of music performances — and the chance to participate in research studies.

I liked the idea that I could contribute to science in a way that might be of use to someone in the future. The one project that caught my eye was brilliantly marketed, as it advertised that you would get your own “brain selfie” in the form of images from an MRI.

I had a nice walk over to the psychology building. On the way, I passed the geology department and smiled as I thought of the jokes on “The Big Bang Theory” to the effect that geology isn’t a real science. I mentioned this to the researcher, and she said that she appreciated that they made fun of geology on the show because usually it’s psychology that ends up as the butt of jokes.

I’ve been trying to try things that are outside my comfort zone, and this one certainly walked the line. I approached this with curiosity and the anticipation that I might learn something.

Once they got me all set up in the machine, I had a momentary freak-out but was pleased that it passed quickly as I remembered to breathe and that I would leave with a handful of cash.

Still, I was reminded of why I will never go on a caving trip again.

The first session involved me trying to look at some images and rate them according to pleasantness, while I periodically received a puff of air in my eye to make me blink. I was wearing goggles to record my eye blinks, which partially obscured my view of the screen.

I also couldn’t wear my glasses, so I couldn’t really see anything anyway. There was just way too much going on at one time.

During one of these scans, they stopped the experiment and quickly wheeled me out of the machine. I wasn’t quite sure what my reaction should be — did they see something terrible? Is the machine malfunctioning? It turned out the fire alarm in the building was going off, which I couldn’t hear because the scanner makes so much noise.

One of the last tests involved so much shaking and rattling that I thought of the rides at Kings Island and why I’m OK with not having been there in probably two decades.

I decided it wasn’t going to be a responsible night of going to the gym and eating leftovers but more likely a pizza-and-chocolate kind of evening, with a mind candy movie thrown in.

They give you a squeeze bulb that you can grab if you’re panicking and need to be released from the life-size tube of toothpaste they’ve put you in. I appreciated that option and was pleased that I didn’t have to use it.

I thought it would be great to have one of those in real life. That way if I’m in a social situation and start having a meltdown, then I could grip that, and somebody would come and rescue me.

I suggested that a teddy bear would be a good way to provide comfort for the patient during the testing. The technician wasn’t impressed as he didn’t like the idea of trying to deal with coordinating more stuff inside the machine.

He did have a poster of the solar system on the outside of the scanner (“for the kids”), which I thought was appropriate since it does look like something out of a space movie.

At least he does have some sense of humor.

Stephanie Haines is a writer from Greenfield who now lives in Bloomington. She can be contacted through her website,