How to Recruit Participants for a Research Study

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Psychology students commonly carry out research studies or experiments to fulfill their graduation requirements. Most graduate and undergraduate students must design research studies and finding willing research participants is one of the toughest parts of successfully executing this research.

Many psychology departments offer incentives for students who participate in other students’ research, often in the form of extra credit or a small payment. But for some studies, psychology majors need to assemble a much larger research population sample. They need to find non-student participants, along with those who do not fit into the W.E.I.R.D. (white, educated, industrialized rich Democrat) demographic group.

Are you unsure of how to recruit a more diverse group of participants? Several experts share their top tips below.

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Recruiting Participants for a Psychology Research Experiment

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Collaborate

Recruiting participants for your research study may seem like a daunting task, but you don’t necessarily need to do it alone. You can reach out to organizations, professionals, or other researchers who hold a vested interest in your field of study. Make sure these potential collaborators have access to the populations you need for your study. Your partner or partners can then reach out to possible participants.

“For example, if you are interested in the effects of frequent alcohol consumption on veterans’ mental health, consider collaborating with psychologists who work in the VA system,” said Eve A. Rosenfield, clinical psychology Ph.D. candidate with the University at Buffalo. “Forming positive relationships with collaborators with access to special populations reduces the amount of effort needed to recruit such populations.”

Especially if prospective participants already have a relationship with these other organizations or researchers, you don’t need to start from scratch when it comes to building trust.

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Scavenge Social Media

If you need research participants from outside of your community, the search may seem especially challenging. Luckily, we live in a time when the world has become more connected than ever before. No matter how you feel about social media, it is an undeniably useful tool for reaching out to participants you’d never otherwise find.

Dr. Alan Chu, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, used Facebook to find participants for his study on table tennis players’ motivations around the world.

“I searched for all Facebook Pages and Groups related to table tennis to recruit participants across the globe, ending with participants from 37 countries,” Chu said.

Use other social media platforms to advertise your studies, like Twitter and Instagram. Rosenfield also recommends Reddit, where you can write up recruitment posts in specialized subsections known as subreddits. Some useful subreddits for psychology and mental health might include r/depression or r/anxiety.

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Use Snowball Sampling

This method offers a way of using already involved individuals to reach out to other potential participants.

Stephen Baker, associate professor of psychology at Saint Francis University, explains how he utilized snowball sampling in a study about long-term breast cancer survivors.

“While my initial recruitment occurred through advertisements in newspapers, media interviews, and flyers in businesses, I asked my participants to help me recruit,” Baker said. “My participants were asked to provide the name of 2 friends or relatives who might want to participate.”

Baker added that you can even ask your previous participants to broker an introduction, which might make taking part in a research study considerably less scary to potential participants. Similarly to the collaboration method, this boosts new participants’ trust.

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Crowdsource

You can find many crowdsourcing data collection services online. Some of these services include Amazon Mechanical Turk, Witmart, SurveyMonkey Audience, Qualtrics Panels, StudyResponse, and Prolific Academic. These services work great for individuals who need to inexpensively and quickly recruit a very large sample size.

The crowdsourcing method also comes with its own advantages and disadvantages when it comes to the participant population. Since these online services can reach many people all over the world, researchers can avoid the W.E.I.R.D. sample. At the same time, it limits your research sample only to people with access to the internet. This can become a problem if you aim to include low-income, super rural, or older populations in your sample.

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Take Advantage of Listservs

Listservs, or email lists, can work as another great resource for recruiting research participants. This method also reaches a large group of potential research participants.

“You can also post recruitment ads to professional listservs for further distribution. Online recruitment allows you to reach a more heterogeneous sample with participants from a wide array of geographical regions, improving the generalizability of your findings,” Rosenfield said.

Make sure to direct your listserv at the right population for your study. Luckily, you can pursue existing listservs with very specialized areas of interest. Since potential participants have already subscribed to the listserv, they already feel interested in your area of research.

“For instance, I have subscribed to the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and the Society for Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology listservs to recruit participants,” said Chu, who studies the intersection between sports, exercise, and psychology.

Additional Resources for Psychology Students

  • Psychology Research on the Net This database publishes recent psychological research articles, which you can use for your research or literature reviews.
  • Simply Psychology Research Methods This website breaks down the scientific research method for psychologists in a simple and easy-to-understand manner.
  • APA Psychological Research Unit You can find plenty of information about psychology research with this online lesson plan from the American Psychological Association (APA).
  • PsycInfo The APA also publishes this database of peer-reviewed research on its website.

Related Pages

Writing Guide for Psychologists

Online Research Guide

Internships and Practicums

Professional Networking for Psychology Students

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