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.


danny scarbrough · March 7, 2007 at 4:16 pm

I participated in the online experiment and it made me realize the advantages and disadvantages of online research. I thought it was cool how a person sitting on their couch at home can be a research subject. It allows Josh and others to collect a mass amount of subjects. Half way through the experiment my roommate came in the room and asked me what I was doing. When I told him I was doing an online study he asked if he could help me do the test. I told him no because it would compromise the study, but i could have easily said yes and have done better on the test. This is a major problem with online research, as the researcher can’t watch the subjects perform the task. Therefore, we must wonder if we can trust online reaserch results. I like being a subject in research and it is important the people give their time for research.

sebia · March 7, 2007 at 7:34 pm

I did always want to be a participant in various research studies. To be honest, though, growing up I always thought it would be great to but my life in researchers hands in order to make a lot of money as a participant. So far I simply haven’t heard of any research project that you make money participating in. Perhaps my motives are weak, but ” it is what it is.”

I did have a good time participating in the Harvard study linked above. I encourage others to do it as well; it is a great way to procrastinate on… well, anything. I may have overthougt it, though, and given them bad results. Through some of the study I found myself trying to figure out their strategy of the “incorrect” message. In truth, I think there was no trick and it was straightforward. Anyhow, take 5 minutes to participate in the study and perhaps you’ll understand what I mean.

I am interested to hear of other opinions of the study! I think this was actually the first legitimate online study I have ever participated in. Are studies like this popular to know about?

Laura Freberg · March 7, 2007 at 11:01 pm

Josh emailed me to see if I would help him recruit participants. He had heard from another Harvard student who had recruited over 1000 participants for his online research! Compared to our abilities to run research the more typical way, by recruiting students on campus, this seems much more efficient. I’m glad you got the experience of being a participant, and you helped Josh at the same time.

lyndseallan · March 14, 2007 at 9:55 pm

I feel like there would be a definate disadvantage to online research in verifying a legitimate identity. I remember the rush I got as a Jr. Higher pretending to a 15 year old instead of a 12 year old on the instant messenger. You never know what kids or internet junkies are lurking around the corner of random websites trying to collect data. plus I feel like anyone who has enough time to “stumble” upon internet research that isn’t suggested through a teacher or friend, might not represent the average person. But if they wanted to do a study to see how many people spend to much time thrill seeking weird stuff on the internet I bet they could get a really good result.

toniobrown · March 14, 2007 at 10:47 pm

Who the participants are that engage in a research study make a big impact on the results of the study. I think it affects the validation of the findings. So if people who are recruiting participants, and are doing it through the internet means that the experimenter has to blindly trust the participant who he/she is and is following the guidlines of the experiment. Thus, I disagree doing studies online, but it is a good way to recruit a large group. Furthermore, i think that research done online has its advantages and disadvantages.

Veronica Kang · March 16, 2007 at 12:02 pm

I am just returning from taking Josh Hartshorne’s online experiment. This was the first time I have taken something like it online. When it explained having to recall pictures, I thought “Great! this will be easy” because I tend to do fairly well on those card matching games. But when the pictures were 3D and flashed for a brief moment, it was challenging.
I did find that participants could easily lie about their gender, age, and vision status.. etc which may hinder from obtaining accurate results.

bayley · May 8, 2007 at 10:38 pm

Online research study has good intentions, but I do not know how reliable and realistic the results are. For example, look at how many people bend the truth for online dating services. Many people are partly sidetracked when using the Internet as well, so their mind could be elsewhere and the results could be skewed. Also, if the results do not have a direct effect on the participant, then they are not as likely to care as much about giving accurate answers. Ultimately, there are too many “what ifs” to rely on the results of Internet research study. In a perfect and completely honest world, it would probably be extremely successful.

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