Getting Testy: How to be a psychology research participant

Recently, I’ve been back and forth to Goldsmiths College is New Cross. This all began when I got an email in my uni mailbox, asking for participants in a study looking at the cognitive ability of gamers. The only requirment was that I play >7 hours of computer games a week. Easily fulfilled.

And what was this? A £5 reimbursement for my time? Oh lovely – that’ll buy me lunch!

So the reward for me was threefold:

  1. provide vital data for a study into the psychology of gaming (and thus flesh out research AND help someone progress with their phD)
  2. actively see how other people conduct their research, in order to make sure mine is even better (i.e. see what works and what doesn’t, from a participant’s perspective)
  3. get a fiver!

Obviously, not all of these points will be relevant to everyone. I would hope point 1 is important to us all (yay, science + altruism), and point 3 is fab, as long as you don’t need to pay for travel to and from New Cross (which I don’t). Point 2 is great for anyone doing research now or in the future – for the rest of you, it can just be from the perspective of curiousity.

So what makes a good research participant?

Fellow researchers and students aren’t traditionally a good choice – they have a predisposition to “second guessing” the tests, and are thus preoccupied. Pay attention! You need to provide good and accurate data, and if you’re thoughts are elsewhere, you can’t do that.

Then there are money grabbers – people who are there purely for the reward (or students who need to participate in order to receive credits to pass their course). They will try to get the tests done ASAP, and therefore (again) will provide crappy data.

Next: it’s not a competition. This is especially important in self-report questionnaires – be HONEST, don’t try and show off how fabulous you are as a person (particularly if it’s not true). Data is always anonymised (unless the researcher tells you otherwise), so no one will know it’s you anyway, so just tell the truth.

What can you expect from psychological research? Well, it’s not that exciting, if I’m going to be perfectly honest. Most of it is infront-of-the-computer stuff, looking at shapes and colours, testing reaction times, short term memory, that sort of thing. Then there are the questionnaires – studies that involve self-report (you know the type – on a scale of 1-7, how muchdo you agree/disagree with this statement…)

Yes, it can be tedious, and yes, you ARE just a number in a spreadsheet, but without those numbers, we can’t do the research, and without the research, psychology can’t progress. Do YOU want to be resposibile for halting the progress of SCIENCE? Oh, and did I mention the fiver?

If you want to help out in the world of psychological research, get in touch with your local uni or college’s psychology department to see if they’re looking for participants. If you’re in London, drop me an email – I know of some fun ones!

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