When I was an undergrad (shortly after the dawn of time), we HAD to participate in ongoing research in order to pass our introductory psychology courses. You learned very quickly that the faculty were kinder than the graduate students, who had a tendency to like administering electric shock. Now, of course, ethical guidelines prevent researchers from coercing people into serving as research participants. Although this is obviously a good idea, many students miss out on the opportunity to contribute to our knowledge of human behavior.
A growing trend has been the administration of online research. The advantages are clear–you can reach a large audience quickly and easily. The downsides include some troubling ethical issues (how old is the person actually answering the questions, or does the site have its hits log function turned on so it can match data to one’s DNS number, etc.). Also, researchers have to consider the fact that internet users are possibly not the most representative sample, but then again, neither are students enrolled in an introductory psychology class.
A new entry into the online research biz is Josh Hartshorne’s Visual Cognition Online Laboratory at Harvard. I clicked on over to visit Josh’s study, but because I recognize the stimuli (I do teach Sensation/Perception after all), I did not complete the study. But it’s fun, quick, and I guarantee that there are no shocks involved.