Participating in Psychology Experiments

Purpose of Participation Requirement:

As part of the course requirement for Introductory Psychology, all students are asked to participate in three psychology experiments during a given semester. In addition to helping faculty with their research, we consider experimental participation to be a valuable learning experience that both contributes to and supplements many of the ideas discussed in class. That is, throughout the four different subsections of this year-long course, each faculty member will be discussing different psychological experiments that have been conducted in the previous literature in order to test a hypothesis about behavior. By participating in an actual experiment, students can get a feeling for what these experiments are like; what some of the typical methodological procedures are for investigating different types of behavior; and how the scientific method in general can be used to test hypotheses about behavior. The purpose of any experiment that you participate in should be explained to you either by a "debriefing" that occurs either immediately after an experiment, or in a letter that will be sent to you later in the semester.

Addressing Common Concerns:

Students sometimes have some concerns about participating in experiments, especially if they have never done so before. Below are some common concerns, which we would like to alleviate:

First, the purpose of these experiments is not to analyze your internal psyche or to make inferences or judgments about you as an individual. Instead, the intent is to investigate how certain factors influence cognitive processes (e.g., perception, memory, attention), behavior, or responses to events in a large group of students who are all experiencing the same phenomenon. In other words, we are not interested in your data as a specific individual, but only as part of a pattern in the larger group.

Second, any information we collect about you is maintained under strict confidentiality. In most studies, your name will not even be associated with your data; rather, you will be assigned a "subject number" when you arrive for the experiment and that number will be used to track your data. This means that your data are completely anonymous. Although student research assistants are hired to collect data during an experimental session, they do not have access to individual participants' data after an experimental session is over. Instead, your individual results are immediately given to the faculty member conducting the study. This faculty member may share group results with other people (for purposes of communicating the results of the study for publication or conference presentation) but the faculty member will not share individual participants' results.

Third, you should be aware that you are free to leave at any time during an experimental session. That is, if you find an experiment to be in any way offensive or potentially threatening, then you are free to simply get up and leave, without any penalty being imposed upon you. (You will still get credit for participating in the experiment.)

Finally, you may find that student assistants are somewhat vague in their description of an experiment before you actually participate in the study itself. This is intentional. While student recruiters should give you some idea about what you'll be doing in the experiment, we don't tell you the underlying purpose of the experiment before you participate. The reason is that this could influence the results of the study, particularly if knowing about the purpose of the study could change how you behave or answer questions in the study. However, as mentioned previously, the experimenter should in some way "debrief" you-- tell you about the study-- after you have finished participating.

If you still have concerns about participating in an experiment, you are encouraged to speak to the faculty member in charge of the class when the concern arises. An alternative assignment will be made available to students who are unwilling to participate in experiments. The assignment will typically be a research paper addressing issues of experimental procedure and methodology used in psychology experiments to answer questions about behavior. See the professor for further details.

A final comment about experimental etiquette: once you have signed up for a given experiment, you are responsible for showing up at the designated time. If you need to cancel your appointment for any reason, then please contact the experimenter well in advance and let him or her know that you won't be attending. This is common courtesy - it is very rude to waste the experimenter's time and effort in setting up a testing session, and you yourself would not appreciate being "stood up". If you cannot make an experiment, then please contact the experimenter and say so. If you fail to do this, then we will debit you such that you will have to participate in an additional experiment beyond the three that are required.

We hope this general information will allay any concerns or answer any questions you may have about participating in psychology experiments. Most students, in fact, find this experience to be an enjoyable one and a source of learning that provides greater insight into the study of psychology. If you do have any additional concerns you would like to discuss, then please contact the chair of the Psychology Department, Doug Davis (email

Experiment Participation
As part of the course requirements, you are asked to participate in 3 hours of psychology studies by the end of the semester. (You may choose to write a research paper if you do not wish to participate in studies; see the professor for details.) Don’t wait until the last minute for your experiment participation, as opportunities to participate may dry up at the end of the semester. The purpose of the experiment participation part of the course is to give you some hands-on familiarity with how psychology studies are conducted, as well as to assist faculty and student researchers in collecting data for ongoing research projects. If you sign up for an experiment and fail to show up without notifying the experimenter in advance, you will lose points and will need to complete an additional experiment to make up for it.

Please note: the points you earn for experiment participation will be allocated to your grade for Psych 106h (Foundations of SocialPsychology) in the second half of the semester. But, you can start earning your credits now.