Trouble-Shooting in Psychology

Through designing and beginning to run my own psychology study, I have begun to understand the ins and outs of the research process at a depth that I was not able to attain in past years by simply helping to conduct someone else’s study.  While the initial tasks of choosing a topic and how to generally study it were exciting due to the opportunities they presented for a vast array of possible avenues and new knowledge to be gained, deciding on the particulars of the experimental design for my study presented opportunities of a different kind: those for missteps and pitfalls.

In the earlier stages of figuring out how to structure my study, my advisor and I were faced with the decision of whether to include a no-treatment control condition alongside the experimental conditions. This condition would certainly be valuable, as the comparison of the control participants’ data with those of the experimental participants would allow us to discern whether our experimental manipulations did have some effect on the dependent variables of interest, demonstrating that our results were not simply a representation of the participants’ baseline states.  However, the inclusion of a no treatment  control condition would also necessitate the recruitment of an additional number of participants, which can easily become an issue due to the study’s inevitable competition with others for participants in William and Mary’s psychology participant pool on Sona. The design of this study specifically leads to another potential problem with the inclusion of a no treatment control condition, as adding that condition to our existing four experimental conditions (to reflect our current 2 x 2 design) would greatly complicate the statistical analyses needed to properly and fully interpret the data. After weighing these pros and cons of the control condition, we ultimately decided to forgo it, hoping that our range of experimental conditions and more straightforward statistical results would make up for the absence of a truly manipulation-free condition.

After my advisor and I officially planned out the study procedures and I began to run participants, another concern arose: whether multiple experimenters besides myself should conduct the study. Having a number of people running participants would be an advantage, as this would mean the data collection’s progress would not have to be hindered by the restraints of my schedule. This advantage would be especially valuable considering my desire to complete data collection by the conclusion of the fall semester. Again, though, the benefits of having a team of researchers are not unaccompanied by drawbacks; with multiple experimenters comes the possibility of experimenter effects. If different researchers running the study do not act equivalently towards the participants, they may unintentionally cue the participants or lead them in a certain direction, causing the data from participants who interacted with one researcher to be systematically different from those from participants who interacted with another researcher. Thankfully, this pitfall can be avoided if the experimenters are all carefully trained to follow the same script and to act the same way towards participants; a well-written and detailed study protocol explaining the exact procedure of the study is invaluable in this endeavor. Guarding against experimenter effects in this way, my advisor and I have now decided to proceed with this study using multiple researchers, hopefully reaping this method’s benefits while avoiding its drawbacks.

As I continue my work with this study, I will without a doubt run into more possible stumbling blocks, and although it might be frustrating, I am confident that through the experience, I will continue to learn about and understand the process of conducting research.