Recruiting Study Participants

While we would all love to foresee and plan for every possible hiccup in the research process, we are still human, and thus we must continue to make adjustments all along the way to ensure the validity of our data and the ease of its collection. So, it is no surprise that after beginning a new semester of progress on my study, more concerns have arisen.

For those recruiting human participants in the Psychology Department, the beginning of the semester means the absence of an easy-to-access pool of participants through the SONA System. Sona is extremely convenient; researchers simply post their studies and available time slots on the website, participants sign up, and those participants are later compensated with research credits that can be used for partial credit in a course they’re taking. This system circumvents the need for a source of money with which to pay them. However, SONA usually isn’t up and running for at least a few weeks into the semester, thus limiting the time available in the semester during which participants can be easily recruited. This poses a problem for researchers like myself who aim to complete data collection early in the fall semester.

Thankfully, an alternative method exists, which I use: advertising the study with posters and paying participants with money instead of credit. The rate of compensation for completing my study, which takes 50 minutes to complete is $10. This quickly adds up when I am running up to 14 participants per week. Fortunately, funding sources exist, such as Student Research Grants through the Charles Center that I can apply for to make this endeavor possible.

However, another concern with temporarily switching to this recruitment method arises when one considers that different types of people may respond to the different methods (getting paid vs. getting research credit). SONA participants are recruited from introductory psychology courses, so these students may have more knowledge of psychological research and may try to give the experimenter what they believe is wanted or may be expecting to be deceived (also known as demand characteristics). Any William and Mary student may respond to the poster advertisements of the study, though, so these participants may not be as aware of what the researcher is investigating. The participants’ attention to detail while participating may also differ between the two groups; SONA participants are asked to write summary papers of research articles, so these people may be extra vigilant to the details of the experiment and may be motivated to figure out the goals of the study, while those who respond to the posters, which advertise payment, may be less motivated because they are merely interested in finishing the study to collect the $10 incentive. These different motivators may influence how they respond to various aspects of the study, thus also influencing the data collected from them and creating the possibility that when the data are analyzed, participant differences in motivation and not the experimental manipulation affects the outcome variable. Luckily, because I am conducting my study over multiple semesters and performing all conditions of the experimental manipulation at all times during those semesters, I can be more assured that any participant differences will be evenly distributed among all those combinations of condition, time period, and participant recruitment method, and thus will not confound my experiment.