Empirical research is an integral part of psychology. Students at Wheaton College learn about psychology through a variety of means. In lecture and seminar courses, they read about psychological studies and discuss the importance of that work with their professors and classmates. In laboratory courses, independent studies, senior honors theses, and as research assistants, etc. students have the opportunity to work closely with faculty and conduct their own studies.

One additional way that our students learn about psychology is by participating in studies as research subjects themselves. The psychology department faculty believes that participation in studies will give students insight into the research process. By being in psychological studies, students are engaging in an important intellectual task with the faculty and advanced students in the department. It is the faculty’s hope that students will gain an appreciation that will help them to better evaluate other research that they read or learn about. The faculty also hopes that students might be inspired to get involved in a research project of their own.

The Research Participation Pool (RPP), sometimes called the “human subject pool”, was created to manage student participation in department research. As such, the RPP serves two purposes.

  • First, it provides an essential source of participants for students and faculty in the psychology department who are conducting research. As such, participation provides a genuine contribution on students’ part to the advancement of knowledge in psychology. The field cannot learn new facts about human behavior unless we have people help us by participating in our research studies.
  • Second, it provides students with first-hand experience participating in the psychological studies being conducted in the department.

These web pages explain how the RPP works for student participants, course instructors, and student/faculty researchers.

General information about the RPP

Note: The RPP for the semester officially closes the last regular day of classes (not the last day of final exams) at 6:00 pm. All research participation (including non-study writing assignments) must be completed by this time.

Additional Note: Starting last year (2014-2015), important changes have been implemented regarding both (a) the way that research participation “units” are counted, (b) what happens if you fail to show up to a research appointment without canceling, and (c) the penalty for failing to complete the participation requirement for PSY 101 and 202 on time. These changes are reflected in the rest of the RPP web documentation.

What exactly is the RPP?

The RPP refers to a computer system, by Sona Systems, that is used to handle all the scheduling and management of human subject pool studies. Student research participants can sign up online, researchers can set up and recruit for their studies online, and the RPP coordinator can ensure students have completed all their requirements. The simple, easy-to-use interface is accessible with any web browser, 24 hours a day. And because the system is electronic, it can send out automatic e-mail notifications and reminders.

Who participates in the RPP as research subjects?

The most common way that the RPP is used is through the mandatory research participation component of PSY 101 (Introductory Psychology) and PSY 202 (Quantitative Research Methods).

However, other psychology courses may also take part in the RPP if the instructor wishes. For instance, an individual course instructor might choose to offer extra credit to any student who participates as a subject in departmental research. If instructors decide to have their class participate in the RPP, they will inform the students directly.

Finally, any psychology researcher who advertises for research subjects through signs posted on campus, e-mails, or other means may also choose to use the RPP to help manage student participation.

Who are the researchers?

The researchers include psychology faculty as well as students working with them – either in a laboratory course or some other means (e.g., independent study, senior honors thesis, research assistant, etc.).

What happens in the RPP studies?

The exact nature and number of the studies varies from semester to semester and each study has a unique purpose and set of activities. There are some general features though. For instance,

  • The study will begin with the researcher providing students with a brief introduction so they will know what to expect. The participants’ rights and the nature of the study will be explained.
  • Once the student has agreed to participate, the actual study will begin. Participants might read something, watch or listen to a presentation, complete a questionnaire, respond to computer-presented stimuli, talk with an interviewer, or join a discussion group, etc.
  • Once the study is over, participants will be given feedback as to the study’s purpose and the hypothesis it was testing. The feedback will usually occur immediately after the experimental session. Sometimes, however, it will occur at a later time. It is the experimenter’s responsibility to provide an educational experience and make sure participants’ questions about the study get answered to their satisfaction.

Can someone opt out of a given study?

After the researcher has given the student a brief introduction to the study, students will be asked if they want to participate in that specific study or not. They then sign an “informed consent” form, and indicate on that form whether or not they have chosen to participate. If they choose to participate, the study will proceed. If they choose not to participate, they are free to go, but no research credit will be earned. If they agree to participate, and then sometime into the actual study they decide that they do not wish to participate any longer, there will be no penalty but they will only be given credit for the time that they have participated.

Are the studies safe?

Yes. Completely. All of the research studies have been approved by an ethics review committee of the college, the Institutional Review Board (IRB). The Board’s concern is not with getting research done, but rather with participants’ well being. In compliance with federal guidelines, before any experiment is conducted the committee must agree that the anonymity and dignity of each participant is protected, and that no participant is put at psychological or physical risk by the experiment’s procedures. In other words, every procedure must guarantee participant safety and confidentiality. Participant responses will not be permanently associated with any identifying information, and in no case will personal or identifying information be disclosed. Any concerns should be brought to the attention of the chair of the Wheaton IRB (Teresa Celada, celada_teresa@wheatoncollege.edu | (508) 286-3648).

More information about research compliance policies can be found in the Office of the Provost section of  insideWheaton.

Are there participation choices aside from studies?

Yes. There will always be writing assignments available for students who either (1) object to taking part in psychological research or (2) are less than 18 years of age. These writing assignments will require the student to read a specific research article and write an APA-formatted paper that both summarizes and critiques the work. Each of these papers is worth one unit of research participation.

To learn more about how the RPP works, please visit the web pages for Student Participants, Course Instructors, or Faculty/Student Researchers.

If you still have questions or need assistance, please feel free to contact the RPP coordinator (Professor Matthew Gingo, gingo_matthew@wheatoncollege.edu  (508-286-3637).

Additional information about Research Compliance Policies can be found on insideWheaton in the ‘Forms and Policies’ section under Office of the Provost.