Experiments pay off for researchers, students

By Rachel Bass

University students looking to earn some extra cash this semester need not look further than the psychology department.

Psychology professors and research assistants pay volunteer subjects for more than 20 percent of the 200 to 250 experiments they conduct each semester, according to Sumie Okazaki, an associate professor of psychology and chair of the Human Subjects Committee.

Okazaki said the payment for individual experiments depends on various factors. If an experiment has more than one session, or if it requires a specific sampling, researchers pay more.

“If we pay three dollars an hour while everyone else is paying six or seven; there isn’t enough of an incentive,” Okazaki said. “But if we pay too much, that could create a psychological mindset that might contaminate the experiment because of motivations for money. If people are eager to get money, they’ll please researchers and give answers they think (researchers) want.”

Money to pay volunteer subjects comes from two different types of grants, external or intramural. Okazaki said external grants come from organizations such as the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health. Intramural grants are supplied by the University.

Okazaki also said attempts are made to make the experiments educational. This is why researchers hand out debriefing papers at the conclusion of every experiment. If students want to learn more, they can contact the people listed on the paper.

“Psychology is an empirical science,” Okazaki said. “We want students to understand that knowledge is built on a series of studies. We always need participants to test research ideas, but we want students to have an educational experience and understand what they did.”

Jon Hartmann, sophomore in LAS, participated in a two-part paid experiment last semester that he said measured his brain waves during periods of rest and concentration. He had to wear an electrical cap for the first session and take a personality survey for the second session. Hartmann received a total of $40 for participating.

“At first, I thought it was a quick way to make money, but it was neat,” Hartmann said. “I never had my brain waves monitored before and it’s not everyday someone wants to hook probes to your head.”

Hartmann said he left the experiment with a better understanding of how psychological research is conducted. He also found it interesting that researchers were trying to correlate brain waves with personality.

Researchers use the data gathered from these experiments to analyze original theories, Okazaki said. They then communicate their findings by writing papers for scientific journals. Feedback takes approximately two to three months.

Josh Hook, senior in LAS, has conducted three experiments in the past, one of which paid volunteer subjects. Whether paid or unpaid, Hook said psychological research is conducted to find out why people act the way they do.

“Offering money is just another avenue to get subjects,” Hook said. “It doesn’t work better or worse, we just need people.”