Conducting Research using the Psychology Paid Research System
Individual research labs are responsible for ensuring that their in-person research procedures are in compliance with all COVID-related directives from the department, campus/university, and state.
Below are instructions about conducting research using the Psychology Department’s Paid Research System. Read the information carefully. If you have questions, consult the FAQ or contact the Participant Pool Coordinator. All studies must have prior approval from the campus Institutional Review Board (IRB) specifically to run paid participants. Studies in the Paid Research System do not have to be approved by the Psychology Human Participants Committee (HSC) in addition. Note that there is a different instruction file for the Psychology Course Credit Participant Pool.
Psychology faculty/postdocs, special faculty with zero-time appointment in the Department of Psychology, and currently enrolled Psychology graduate students are eligible to use the Psychology Department’s Paid Research System.
- Thesis/Dissertation projects of students from a different department are not eligible.
- Research projects of faculty/postdocs from a different department are not eligible.
- Affiliated faculty are not eligible unless they have a zero-time appointment with the Psychology Department.
There are 5 study types currently supported by SONA:
- In-Person Study: In-person studies take place in a laboratory on campus, and participants must physically attend the session. These studies may include eye-tracking, brain imaging, physiological measurement, interactions with a confederate, etc. Participants sign up on SONA to schedule an appointment, physically go to the lab at the scheduled day/time, and complete the study by following the experimenter’s instructions to receive payment.
- Online Study: Online studies include survey questionnaires, experiments, computer-based behavioral studies that participants complete on their own time. Participants do not physically visit the lab. Participants sign up on SONA, access the study link, and complete it at any time before the deadline to receive payment.
- Virtual Study: Virtual studies include studies conducted over video-conference (e.g., Zoom) that involve virtual, real-time interactions with an experimenter. Participants do not physically visit the lab. Participants sign up on SONA to schedule an appointment, access the study link at the scheduled day/time, and complete the study by following the experimenter’s instructions to receive payment. Participants are given access to the Zoom link 10 minutes before the scheduled appointment.
- Multi-Part In-Person Study: These are in-person studies that have 2-4 parts. Researchers may customize their study such that each part is scheduled to take place a certain number of hours/days apart from the previous part (e.g., Part 2 must take place exactly 10 days after Part 1). Each part of a multi-part study may have a different credit value (e.g., 0.5 credit for Part 1, 2 credits for Part 2). Participants must sign up for all parts of the study at once. Participants must physically attend at the scheduled days/times. If a participant attends the first part but misses the subsequent part(s), they may receive prorated payment for partial completion of a multi-part study. Participation status must be assigned for each part.
- Multi-Part Online Study: These are online studies that have 2-4 parts and work in a similar way as the multi-part in-person studies (see above), except all parts are completed online. Time separation between each part is enforced based on when the participant is marked as “participated” for the previous part, and the URL for the next part will not be accessible until that time is reached.
- The study URL for each part must be unique.
- Participants will be given access to the URL for each part of the study at the appropriate time, based on when they received the “participated” status in the previous part.
- You may use different survey products for each part (e.g., Qualtrics for Part 1, Inquisit for Part 2).
For virtual/in-person studies, researchers must be on time. Participants are told to wait 15 minutes past the scheduled start time. If they wait 15 minutes or longer for the researcher, they should be paid for the time spent waiting in addition to time spent doing your study. Researchers should place a note on the door of the room where the study is being conducted, with instructions about where participants should wait. It is the responsibility of the researcher to check the hallway prior to closing the door at the start of the study to be sure that all participants are in the room. If a study is scheduled after building hours, the researcher must arrange for participants to be let into the building.
If the study ends up taking longer than they were told it would, participants must be allowed to leave at the scheduled time if they want to. If they volunteer to stay to finish the study, they should be paid for the amount of time they actually spend.
Researchers should remind participants to turn off and put away all cell phones or anything else that may be distracting. If these devices are used during the study, the researcher may ask the participant to leave. If participants are being disruptive, purposely providing inaccurate or inappropriate responses, or acting in a manner that makes the researcher believe the data will be unusable, a researcher can ask them to leave.
For online research, obtaining quality responses can sometimes be challenging. Unlike a lab study, participants do not have the option to ask an RA if they are confused and/or have questions about the task. Thus, instructions should be clear, and participants should have the option to re-read essential parts, if needed. In addition, embedding attention/comprehension checks in online studies is highly encouraged. The idea is to have a simple attention check question in the survey and/or an easy comprehension question to test participants’ understanding of the task before they begin. If participants fail these easy questions or practice trials with very obvious answers, then it is clear that they are not paying attention and should not continue with the study. You can then use branch logic (e.g., in Qualtrics) or similar programming features to prevent such people from proceeding with the rest of the study. By embedding attention checks, you will likely get better quality data and not waste your resources on unusable data. However, you should not make the attention checks too difficult. The goal is not to punish participants who are genuinely trying but may make some mistakes on accident.
Before you can run a study, you must request a study number by filling out a form to request creation or activation of a study number in the Paid Research System available here. Notice that there are different forms for requesting study numbers for the Paid and Course Credit Participant Pools. Submit the completed form and upload required documentations. In addition to assigning a study number, the Subject Pool Coordinator will title all studies in the Paid Research System as “Paid Study ###.” There are different types of study requests depending on whether the study is already in the Paid Research System or the Course Credit Participant Pool system.
Studies run in previous years in the Paid Research System: These are studies that have a pre-existing study number in the Paid Research System which only needs to be reactivated. If these studies have had only minor revisions (e.g., personnel change) or annual renewal updates since they were last approved by the IRB, you do not have to be resubmit all of the IRB documents. The most recent IRB approval letter will suffice. Fill out the form to request activation of an existing study number in the Paid Research System and attach your most recent IRB approval letter. Shortly after receiving your request, the Subject Pool Coordinator will re-activate your researcher account (if necessary), reactivate the study number, and email you. You will then be able to run your study.
New studies that have never been in the Paid Research System: These are studies that have never been set up in the Paid Research System before. They may or may not have already been set up in the Course Credit Participant Pool. Fill out the form requesting a study in the Paid Research System and attach: (1) Most recent IRB approval notice, (2) Full completed IRB-1 form, including amendments if there have been any, and (3) Consent Forms (specific for paid participants). Even if the study has already been set up in the Course Credit Participant Pool, you still need to include all of the documents listed above the first time you request creation of the study in the Paid Research System. Shortly after these materials are received, the Subject Pool Coordinator will create a new study number and set up or reactivate researcher accounts if necessary and email you that you can now set up and run your study.
Once a study is activated, you must set up some information so that it runs properly. Even if the study is the same as previous semesters, double-check all of the information, following the steps below.
- Go to the Paid Research System website and log in using the user ID and password emailed to you by the Subject Pool Coordinator.
- In the center of the screen, click My Studies. Your study number should be in the Active Studies box.
- Click on the study number. This takes you to the main page for your study.
- Click Change Study Information, near the bottom of the screen. This allows you to modify settings including cancellation deadline and reminder email options. Do not change the study name, duration, or age restriction. One difference between the Paid vs. Course Credit SONA systems is that you are allowed to include brief descriptions of your studies in the Paid Research System but you are not allowed to do so in the Course Credit system. If you add text in the eligibility or preparation sections, the system will require an admin approval (notify the Pool Coordinator what you changed and the study will be reapproved shortly). Click Save Changes when you are finished.
- To set up requirements using the Prescreening, click on View/Modify Restrictions. An age restriction has automatically been included in your study’s restrictions. This is so that underage participants do not participate. Do NOT remove this age restriction. Select any other questions you want to use for prescreening that are allowed in your IRB. Click Set Restrictions. Select the response options that you want to be eligible for participation in your study. Click Save Changes. Note that there is no communication between the Paid and Course Credit SONA systems. That means you cannot set up restrictions for a study in one system that depend on studies in the other system. That is, if you have the same or similar studies in both systems, you cannot set up restrictions for a study that automatically prevent people from signing up for the same or a similar study in the other system.
- To create timeslots for your study, click View/Administer Time Slots, then click Add A Timeslot. Fill out the timeslot information: the date, time with AM/PM, and number of participants in the session. Click Add this timeslot. Repeat this process for every session.
- For in-person studies, the “timeslot” is the date/time at which participants must physically show up to the lab. Use the “location” to indicate both the building (e.g., Psychology, Beckman Institute) and the room number of the study site.
- For online studies, the “timeslot” you set refers to the date and time that the study must be completed by. You can think of it as the “participation deadline” for your study. Note that some students may participate as soon as they sign up, while others may wait a few days or even weeks before participating. See the Credit Pool calendar to set the appropriate timeslot (also see “Awarding Credit” section below). For example, if you’re opening a slot at the beginning of the semester, do not set any timeslot to be later than the mid-semester credit assignment deadline.
- For virtual studies, the “timeslot” is the date/time at which participants must access the Zoom link to interact with the experimenter. Under the “location” part, use the second space (where it says “Videoconference URL”) to enter the Zoom link.
- For multi-part in-person studies, make sure that there are enough available timeslots for all parts of the study; otherwise, participants will be prevented from signing up for your study altogether.
- For multi-part online studies, set up one timeslot for each part of the study. The “timeslot” for the first part should be the last date you want to allow participation in the first part (again, think of online timeslot as participation “deadline”). The timeslots for the other parts should be any time on or after the deadline of the first part. The time separation between each part of the study is determined based on the date credit was granted for the participant, and is specified in hours. Participants will be given access to the URL for each part of the study at the appropriate time, based on when they received credit in the previous part. Plan your timeslots appropriately (e.g., you must avoid situations where participants complete the first part on time but are not given enough time to submit the subsequent parts).
You must update a participant’s attendance status within 48 hours of the session. From your study’s home page, click View/Administer Timeslot. Select the session, and click Modify, to bring up the Credit page. The default status is No Action Taken. To record attendance, select the Participated button next to the participant’s name. To record failure to complete the study (for any sort of absence, cancellation, or other situation), select the No-Show button next to the participant’s name. In the Comments box, include any details about the type of No-Show situation. See the Recording Attendance, No-Show, and Cancellation sections below for more details. It is important to follow these procedures even for paid studies (see below).
You must record attendance within 48 hours of the study in the Paid SONA system even though you will be paying these participants by whatever mechanism you usually use for paying participants, rather than assigning them credit. The Paid Research System is intended to facilitate getting people to sign up for your paid studies. It will not handle any aspect of paying them or the record keeping that is required about such payment. Use the Comments box on the Credit page to record information about a participant’s absence or conduct. The Subject Pool Coordinator will check on the number of No-Shows people in the Paid Research System have, and lock out people who have accumulated two Unexcused No-Shows.
By accident, a researcher may run a participant who has not signed up for their study (i.e., the researcher goes to record attendance for the participant and realizes that their name is not on their study’s Credit page). If this happens, the researcher must email the Subject Pool Coordinator explaining the situation and providing the following: Participant’s name, email address, study #, and session date/time. The Coordinator will review the information, and record attendance as necessary.
If you change a participant’s attendance status from No-Show to Participated, you must email the Participant Pool Coordinator, since such changes can affect the participant’s account. If their account is locked because they have had two Unexcused No-Shows and you change a No-Show to Participated, their account will not be unlocked automatically. Only the Participant Pool Coordinator can unlock the account.
There are certain situations in which a participant’s No-Show will be Excused (e.g., illness, emergency). If any of these situations occur, a researcher must mark the participant as Excused No-Show and use the Comments box to explain the situation so that the participant’s No-Show is excused.
A participant who is not comfortable with a study can withdraw at any time. If a participant withdraws before completing a study, you should handle prorated payment for time spent in the way you said you would in your IRB application. Record in the Comments box whether partial payment was given. (We don’t need to know the actual amount.)
In the Paid Research System, a No-Show includes any situation in which the participant does not complete a study. A No-Show is not in itself a penalty. Any of the following situations can be classified as a No-Show: a missed session, a late arrival to a study, an incomplete online study, a session canceled less than 24 hours in advance, or a participant choosing to or being asked to leave.
Cancellations: Details are in the Canceling Studies section below. Use the Comments box to provide details about the situation.
Participant Absences: If a participant misses a study, they must be marked as a No-Show. Information about the absence must be included in the Comments box. This can include situations in which participants emailed to explain their absence, their justification for missing the study, etc. This information will be reviewed and in certain cases (emergency, documented illness, etc.), the No-Show may be Excused. Typically, if a participant cancels less than 24 hours in advance or misses an appointment, the No-Show will be Unexcused
Whenever a researcher cancels a study session that has participants signed up, they must email the participants and the Subject Pool Coordinator. Include a list of the participants’ names in the email to the Coordinator.
Researcher Cancellation: Send emails to the participants who are signed up and the Subject Pool Coordinator alerting them to the cancelled session. Then, in the Paid SONA system, select the session you want to cancel and click Modify, which brings up the Credits page. Change each participant’s status from No Action Taken to No Show. In the Comments box you must write “Researcher Cancelled.” This lets the Coordinator know that this was a cancellation (an Excused No-Show) and not an Unexcused No- Show.
Participant Cancellation: If a participant emails to cancel more than 24 hours before a session, tell them they can cancel it themselves in the SONA system, under My Schedule/Credits. If it is less than 24 hours before the session, then it is too late to cancel in the SONA system. On the Credits page in the online system, mark them as a No Show and in the Comments box write “Participant emailed too late to cancel.” This will not excuse their No-Show, but it provides information about the No-Show, in case they appeal to have the No-Show excused.
Prior to the start of the study, participants must read and sign the consent form for the study that they are about to participate in and they should be given a blank copy of the consent form.
Debriefing sheets are optional for paid studies.
A participant who is uncomfortable with a study can withdraw at any time. How you handle prorated payment for time spent depends on what you specified in your IRB application. Participants who withdraw do not have to fill out the Voluntary Withdrawal form and you do not have to email the Subject Pool Coordinator about it. (Note, though, that the IRB does require you to keep track of the number of people who withdraw from your studies. They ask for that information as part of annual project renewals.)