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Builder concepts

Routines and Flow

The Builder view of the PsychoPy application is designed to allow the rapid development of a wide range of experiments for experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience experiments.

The Builder view comprises two main panels for viewing the experiment’s Routines (upper left) and another for viewing the Flow (lower part of the window).

An experiment can have any number of Routines, describing the timing of stimuli, instructions and responses. These are portrayed in a simple track-based view, similar to that of video-editing software, which allows stimuli to come on go off repeatedly and to overlap with each other.

The way in which these Routines are combined and/or repeated is controlled by the Flow panel. All experiments have exactly one Flow. This takes the form of a standard flowchart allowing a sequence of routines to occur one after another, and for loops to be inserted around one or more of the Routines. The loop also controls variables that change between repetitions, such as stimulus attributes.

Example 1 - a reaction time experiment

For a simple reaction time experiment there might be 3 Routines, one that presents instructions and waits for a keypress, one that controls the trial timing, and one that thanks the participant at the end. These could then be combined in the Flow so that the instructions come first, followed by trial, followed by the thanks Routine, and a loop could be inserted so that the Routine repeated 4 times for each of 6 stimulus intensities.

Example 2 - an fMRI block design

Many fMRI experiments present a sequence of stimuli in a block. For this there are multiple ways to create the experiment:
  • We could create a single Routine that contained a number of stimuli and presented them sequentially, followed by a long blank period to give the inter-epoch interval, and surround this single Routine by a loop to control the blocks.
  • Alternatively we could create a pair of Routines to allow presentation of a) a single stimulus (for 1 sec) and b) a blank screen, for the prolonged period. With these Routines we could insert pair of loops, one to repeat the stimulus Routine with different images, followed by the blank Routine, and another to surround this whole set and control the blocks.


There are a couple of demos included with the package, that you can find in their own special menu. When you load these the first thing to do is make sure the experiment settings specify the same resolution as your monitor, otherwise the screen can appear off-centred and strangely scaled.

Stroop demo

This runs a digital demonstration of the Stroop effect [1]. The experiment presents a series of coloured words written in coloured ‘inks’. Subjects have to report the colour of the letters for each word, but find it harder to do so when the letters are spelling out a different (incongruous) colour. Reaction times for the congruent trials (where letter colour matches the written word) are faster than for the incongruent trials.

From this demo you should note:
  • How to setup a trial list in a .csv or .xlsx file
  • How to record key presses and reaction times (using the resp Component in trial Routine)
  • How to change a stimulus parameter on each repetition of the loop. The text and rgb values of the word Component are based on thisTrial, which represents a single iteration of the trials loop. They have been set to change every repeat (don’t forget that step!)
  • How to present instructions: just have a long-lasting TextStim and then force end of the Routine when a key is pressed (but don’t bother storing the key press).
[1]Stroop, J.R. (1935). “Studies of interference in serial verbal reactions”. Journal of Experimental Psychology 18: 643-662.

Psychophysics Staircase demo

This is a mini psychophysics experiment, designed to find the contrast detection threshold of a gabor i.e. find the contrast where the observer can just see the stimulus.

From this demo you should note:
  • The opening dialog box requires the participant to enter the orientation of the stimulus, the required fields here are determined by ‘Experiment Info’ in ‘Preferences’ which is a python dictionary. This information is then entered into the stimulus parameters using ‘$expInfo[‘ori’]’
  • The phase of the stimulus is set to change every frame and its value is determined by the value of trialClock.getTime()*2. Every Routine has a clock associated with it that gets reset at the beginning of the iteration through the Routine. There is also a globalClock that can be used in the same way. The phase of a Patch Component ranges 0-1 (and wraps to that range if beyond it). The result in this case is that the grating drifts at a rate of 2Hz.
  • The contrast of the stimulus is determined using an adaptive staircase. The Staircase methods are different to those used for a loop which uses predetermined values. An important thing to note is that you must define the correct answer.