OpenSesame Tutorial – How to Create a Flanker Task

In this post you are going to learn how to create a simple experiment using the free experiment building software OpenSesame. As I have previously written about, OpenSesame, is an application, based on Python, for creating Psychology, Neuroscience, and Economics experiments. It offers a nice and easy to use interface.  In this interface you can drag-and-drop different objects. This means that you don’t have to know any Python programming at all to create an experiment.

How to create a psychology exeriment using OpenSesame

Flanker Task

The task we are going to use in this OpenSesame tutorial is a version of the Flanker Task. In the version we are going to use here the task is to respond, as quickly and accurate as possible, to the direction of an arrow. The arrow will be surrounded by either arrows pointing in the same direction (congruent; e.g., “<<<<<“) or in the other direction (incongruent: “>><>>”).  In the example, there will be four practice trials and 128 test trials. Each trial, whether practice or test, will start with the presentation of a fixation cross for 2000ms. Following the fixation cross, the target and flankers will be presented (also for 2000ms). The general layout can be seen in the figure below.

OpenSesame Tutorial - layout of the experiment Creating the Flanker Task

In this tutorial we start with OpenSesame’s default template:

How to present text using OpenSesame

Generally, this is how OpenSesame looks like when we start it. Now we go ahead and delete the getting_started by right-clicking on it and select “Permanently delete all linked copies”.

How to delete items in OpenSesame

When this is done, I renamed the welcome sketchpad to “WelcomeScreen” (click on the blue text to rename it). In the “WelcomeScreen” we are going to add text containing the task instructions. To change the text double-click on “OpenSesame 3.1 Jazzy James” (or whatever text your version of OpenSesame will have):

How to input text in OpenSesame

In this dialogue we will type our welcome and task instructions and the text in the sketchpad will change accordingly:


How to create a sketchpad containing task instructions in OpenSesame

Creating the practice trials

The next step is to create a loop for our practice trials by dragging and dropping the loop object under our welcome screen. We put it under our welcome screen and give it the name “practice_trials” by clicking on the new_loop (blue text). In our case, we add 4 trials. First, we name 4 columns, targets, congruent, and correct_response.  In the column targets, we put the four different types of stimuli we are going to use in our example (e.g., “<<<<<“, “>><>>”, “>>>>>”, and “<<><<“) and in the column congruent we put 0 and 1 for congruent and incongruent trials, respectively. Finally, we add the correct response in the last column (“x” for pointing left and “m” for pointing right).


Tutorial - Practice Trials OpenSesame Flanker Task

Inserting a sequence

The next thing we need to do is inserting a sequence into our practice_trials loop. Here we will add our fixation cross, flanker stimuli, and so on. Basically, things that are put into the sequence item are run in the order they appear. To add the sequence item, drag and drop the item to the practice trials loop:

Add a Practice Sequence Object

After we have created our sequence item we can rename it to “practice_seq” and insert a sketchpad. Each trial is, namely, gong to start with the presentation of the fixation dot followed by the flanker stimuli. A sketchpad is inserted in a similar way as the sequence item. That is, we drag the sketchpad object and drop it into the practice sequence. When we have our first sketchpad, we rename it fixation, and put the duration to 2000ms:

OpenSesame how-to - sketchpad duration for the fixation cross.

Next, we are going to draw the fixation dot in the middle of the sketchpad item. It is quite easy, just select the icon looking like a crosshair and click in the middle of the black screen with a green grid:

Now we have created our fixation dot and we are ready to add a new sketchpad for presenting the Flanker stimuli. We drag and drop a sketchpad item but on this item we select a textline element (the icon with an “A”) and click on the middle of the screen. In the dialogue that pops up we write “[targets]”:

It is important, that we write “targets” within the brackets because this is what tells OpenSesame to get the text we wrote in the column earlier (the practice loop). As you may notice in the image below, we also set the duration to 2000ms and increased the font size (36 px). What seems to be important here is to untick HTML. Using the HTML setting it seems like the arrows (“<“) looks a bit weird, namely. Since we don’t typically use the data from practice trials we skip, in this OpenSesame tutorial, how to collect responses. We will look at this when we create our test trials, however.

The last thing we do before we we create our experiment trials is to add a sketchpad after the practice loop and name it “end_practice”. In this sketchpad we add a textline object with the text: “That was the practice trials. Press ANY key to start the actual test.”

Creating the test trials

A neat thing with OpenSesame is that we can copy our practice loop by right clicking on it. This way we can skip creating a new loop, new sequence, and so on. In this case, we copy the practice loop unlinked so that we can add trials to our experiment block:

If we right click again (or press ctrl-V) we can choose to paste our copied loop after the practice trials (and we do that). We go on and rename the new loop to “experiment_loop” and the new sequence to “experiment_seq”. Finally, we copy-and-paste our trials until we get 64 trials:


Adding a keyboard and a logger


In the Flanker task we are going to collect responses, of course. We now need to add a response device. As with all objects in OpenSesame, we can find the keyboard object to the left, in the menu. We just drag and drop it under the target_1 sketchpad. Here we just add 1200 to Timeout because we want a response window with the duration of 1200ms. That we named one column “correct_response” means that we don’t have to add that to our keyboard:


OpenSesame tutorial - record responses

Because we want to have some data recorded (i.e., correct responses and response time) the last thing we will add to the experiment is a logger. In this object we just leave it so that it logs everything but we could, if we would like, just tell OpenSesame which different items we want to record.

We also want to tell the subjects that the task has ended, so we add a final item to the test: the end screen. This will, again, be a sketchpad with the name “end_screen” and the text: “That was the test. Thank you for participating!”
I also created a Video Tutorial that is very similar to the how-to in the text above:

That was the OpenSesame tutorial. Now we know how to create a Psychology experiment using the free tool OpenSesame! I compiled the how-to as a PDF: OpenSesame Tutorial- How-To Create A Psychology Experiment.pdf.

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