What really drives people to take part in psychological research studies? Is this significant?

I recently participated in a research study involving DNA and genetics in order to see the effects of genetic variants on behaviour and brain activity.

Despite the fact that I was aware the researcher paid participants to be a part of their study that was not the initial reason why I decided to volunteer. I’ve always been interested in the relationship between genetics and behaviour and I wanted to be a part of the study in order to gain more knowledge of what the researcher was trying to find out, and how the results from the study could be used to gain information about how somebody behaves based on their performance in certain tasks.

After participating in the study I had the opportunity to ask the researcher further questions. I was curious as to how many participants had taken part so far and the amount of data they required before the analysis could take place. I found out that I was participant number 320, despite the fact that plenty more people had responded to the advertisement of the study, not all of them met the criteria of the study and so had failed to become a participant. Even though the criteria of the study were clearly stated on the advertisement, many people that did not meet the criteria attempted to participate regardless. What I found interesting though was the fact that the researcher still paid them as advertised despite not participating at all, in order to reimburse them for their time. Similarly participants have a right to withdraw from a study at any time without needing to provide a reason, if so, the participant would still receive the full amount of money despite not contributing to the data.  However, is it fair that they are still rewarded for not contributing to the research findings?

From this, I decided in this week’s blog, to see whether people believe the drive to participation is significant? Would a participant behave differently throughout a study if all they are interested in is the money at the end of it?

I believe there would be a difference of performance if you compared results from people who had an interest in the area to people who are uninterested in the study, but very interested in the money. If people are only seeking the rewards (money) and do not care for the study itself, does this then become similar to operant conditioning, were performance is based on reward? One way to overcome this is for a study not to advertise a reward (and give the participant money after the study has taken place).

I think it would be very interesting to compare the response rate of a psychological study advertising for participants which did not state a reward (where willing participants would have a genuine interest in the subject) to the response rate of the same study advertising for participants and stating a reward (money, for example). Response rates could then be compared and then following on from that, a comparison of the results could take place. We would then be able to see whether the drive to participation is significant and whether the participants behave differently throughout a study if they do not believe they are being rewarded for their time and efforts, or vice versa.

Thank you for reading, feel free to comment!

Nathalie :]


About Nathalie Lauren Joyce

19. First year @ Bangor University. Psychology Blogger.

7 responses to “What really drives people to take part in psychological research studies? Is this significant?

  1. I do not know if it’s just me or if everyone else encountering problems with your site. It appears as though some of the written text within your content are running off the screen. Can someone else please comment and let me know if this is happening to them as well? This might be a issue with my browser because I’ve had this happen before. Kudos

  2. I have to own up and also say that I have never thought about this issue within psychology research. If true that the rewards can alter the responses given within studies it would mean that not only psychological studies but other scientific studies would be invalid. The main issue that came into my mind when you suggested that the results may be affected by the reward system was that the participants would all be the same if there was no reward. By not offering a reward it will sample the population so that only the truly interested people, possibly studying or working in that area will attend the study. Alternatively if the study seems extremely monotonous and long term but is offering a large monetary reward it could mean that the participants will all be money seeking in personality style, other generalisations may be made from this characteristic. If researchers realised this then it could mean that they can use it to their advantage. for example if a researcher was trying to support a previous theory of theirs, to find out how far people would go for money and they offered a huge reward. This may mean that their results will show ground breaking findings when its simply a sneaky bit of sampling.

  3. Your blog covers something I personally have never really thought about. From my own experience with SONA points I would also say that I only sign up to gain the points really, although obviously I am interested in the research, being a psychology student, I think I’d be less likely to sign up to so many if it was not part of the course.
    But I do agree that it could be possible that if money was not advertised in the study advert, then less interest may be generated and less participant data could be gathered as a result, meaning it would be more difficult for the researcher to come to conclusions from the data if the sample was too small. Also if the people taking part in an unpaid study were doing it out of interest, then this may mean a certain type of person was taking part and could limit generalisability of the results. Therefore I think paying participants can be important, although I agree it may affect behaviour, as those being paid for a study might be more motivated to do better in the study than those who were doing an unpaid study, which would in turn affect results.

  4. litsasourla

    I have to agree with everyone’s comments about there always being an incentive. Whether it be money, more knowledge, credits, etc. There would be a smaller turn out if there was no reward for the participants. I see your frustration in that results may be influenced by motivation for the end reward and this may be true but for psychology to ever progress or for any studies to ever become reliable and have the ability to be generalised, we need a large number of participants otherwise the study will be disregarded and the time and money of the researchers will go to waste. So i guess it would be best find what is more valuable; the need for more participants or the effects of rewards.
    As for the money still being given to people who have not taken part, i believe it is unnecessary. I think it would only be necessary if someone took part and then chose to withdraw if they did not feel comfortable in the research.

  5. I agree that financial benifits would motivate people for reasons other than an interest in the specific study itself, however would this not be good in terms of being able to generalise to the whole population. By only having those that do it for personal interests would limit the generalisation. Research carried out also shows that physical rewards had more of an effect upon children taking part in activities compared to university students motivation for taking part, (Deci, 1999). Therefore the reasons for university students taking part at this time in their life, may be the best time for them to take part in experiments due to their apparent sincerity.

  6. I found this blog really interesting, one point I would like to make is that I feel no matter if the participant was in the field of psychology or from the general public, an incentive would have to be used. As we all know, time is money, our daily lives do not allow for freely giving our time away. If you take psychology students like you and I… We all know full well that we are taking part in these studies to simply get our SONA credits… without the credits personally I would not put time aside to take part in them, as there would be no incentive. I would argue that when people take part in studies there is always a motive behind it, and if there was not an incentive there, I believe they would struggle to gather participants.

  7. I feel that the drive to participate in any kind of research is extremely significant. Take for example, any psychological experiment conducted in the world today by independent psychologists. In order to draw people to participate in their research, they would have to provide some sort of gain to the participant. This would be as it is commonly said, time is money. By participating in the research experiment, the participants are actually unable to put forth the time to better use or, have to apply leave from their normal day-to-day jobs. As such, if there were no gain from doing an experiment, the number of participant the researcher should actually conduct an experiment on would be too little. Take for example, SONA. Many psychology students participate in the experiments conducted due to the need to fulfill the 14 credits goal. If it was not for this regulation, many of the psychology studies would not have participants signing up for the research. Even in your scenario, the motive behind participating was actually to learn more about the subject tested. As such, I feel that we can safely say that everyone usually has an ulterior motive behind participating in research studies. As such, if there is no reward advertised, participants might not come forward, showing a flaw in not advertising the rewards the participant may garner.

    Tracy Yang

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