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Procedure for Running a Behavioral Study

Setup: Before the participants arrive

  1. Arrive 15 minutes early.
  2. Turn on all equipment.
    1. main lab computer and monitor
    2. security camera monitors
    3. monitors in each room (computers stay on, so just need to turn on monitor)
    4. ceiling light fixtures
    5. your smile
  3. Check for supplies.
    1. Do you have enough consent forms? Copies of the original (bottom left of mail sorter) can be made on the copier by the elevators. The lab’s copy code (five-digit number) should be on the board.
    2. Do you need pens or other office supplies? Those can be found in the hallway supply closet. Take what you need and write it down on the legal pad with the lab name.
  4. Computer setup.
    1. Log into the lupyanlab gmail account and open your study’s subject info sheet from google drive.
    2. All relevant notes (start buttons, headphones/glasses, special instructions) are at the top of the subject info sheet. Read the notes and make necessary adjustments (go in rooms and take out headphones, gamepad, etc.).
    3. Enter subjects codes and experiment parameters (if needed) for as many participants as you expect for the day. Pay careful attention to the pattern of seed and condition codes.
    4. Use the switchbox to select a computer to setup. For each computer, click on the experiment desktop shortcut.
    5. Enter appropriate information into the dialog box according to the subject info sheet. This is a good time to pre-assign which room gets what condition so you don't get confused later.

When the participants arrive

  1. Tell them they should leave all of their things outside of the booths.
  2. Obtain consent.
    1. Give them a consent form. Explain that we run a number of similar studies in the lab so the consent form will not contain specific task instructions, but it will tell them the type of research we are doing and how we will be using their data.
    2. On the back, there are two boxes about agreeing to be video-audio taped. Explain that we we will be using the cameras to monitor their progress during the task, but the video is not being saved. We probably won't record their audio either (unless the experiment requires it).
    3. Ask them to read the form, ask any questions they might have, check the necessary boxes, and sign/date on the back when they're ready.
    4. Offer them a copy of the form for themselves if they would like one.
    5. Witness the form by signing below their signature line. Write the 3-letter study code on the top right corner of the consent form.
  3. Give instructions.
    1. Explain the structure of the study (e.g. two tasks followed by a survey). Explain that they can stop the study at any time if they feel uncomfortable. (This part can be done individually in the booths or all at once in the main room as the study requires.) Sit them in front of the instruction screen and ask them to read the instructions, "but do not start the study just yet". If you are running multiple participants, you can do this sequentially: set one up in a room, go to the next room, set the other one up, etc. Remember, you can operate the computers using the console computer by switching to each monitor and using the console keyboard/mouse to input the subject codes etc.
    2. After the participants read the instructions on their own, go back into the room and go over the instructions with them verbally.
    3. Make sure each participant understands the directions and asks any questions they may have. Tell them that you'll leave the booth and when you close the door, (put on headphones, etc. if necessary), read the directions again and press the relevant button to begin.

When they're done

  1. Make sure they have completed the necessary surveys.
  2. Give them a quick description of the purpose of the study and ask if they have any further questions or concerns about the the study. Thank them for participating.
  3. Finish filling in the subject info sheet (subject compliance, notes, etc.)
  4. Grant them credit in Sona.

Best Practices for Running a Behavioral Study

These techniques will help ensure that things run smoothly and that we get the cleanest data possible from each subject.

Know the experiment you are running. Run through the experiment yourself ahead of time by creating a test subject code (e.g., “test_Martin”), both so that you have a thorough understanding of the experiment structure and so you can anticipate any questions the subjects may have. For example, you should be able to answer:

  • How long will each task take?
  • (Approximately) how many breaks are there?
  • Are there any particular aspects of the instructions that should be highlighted?
  • What is the general purpose of the study?

Be in control of the experiment room. A professional demeanor will help ensure that your participants comply with your instructions and requests. Show up before your participants with enough time to get everything set up. Keep your participants in the hallway until you are ready for them. Schedule 15 minutes between time slots for experiments that are difficult to set up or that tend to take up the entire time allotment.

Make the participant feel valued. Be generally cheerful and thank the subject. Let the subject know that their participation is important to us and that the data that we collect from each person contributes to an exciting body of work. Let them know at the beginning that we encourage them to ask questions about the experiment afterwards.

Give thorough explanations. Don’t leave your subjects in the dark. Explain as much as you can about the experiment beforehand so the participant feels there is some purpose to their being locked in a tiny closet for 30 minutes. Let them know what to expect--how many tasks there are, which ones are longer, if there will be breaks. If some part of the instructions need to be highlighted or if gesturing will help make the instructions more clear, do so.

Be sympathetic. Be upfront about demands of the task so the participant knows beforehand. Is it long and repetitive? Does it require intense visual focus? Convey the information in a friendly way that makes it clear you are sympathetic to any level of discomfort the subject may have, but that they are providing us with valuable data. If there is a potential of physical discomfort or pain, such as with tDCS, make it very clear that the participant should let you know and that the experiment can be stopped at any time.

Use the monitors. Keep an eye on the monitors to ensure that participants are not falling asleep or using their cell phone during the task. Also use the main terminal to view a few of each participant’s trials. Sometimes you can tell if a participant has not clearly understood the instructions by viewing their performance on the task. Does it look like they are struggling with the task at all? Are they taking much more time than expected to complete each trial?

Take thorough notes. On the subject info sheet, provide any information that you think could be useful or explain errant data. Was the subject nodding off during the experiment? Did the subject seem to have trouble understanding the task? Were there any technical issues? These kinds of notes are very important later on to clean up the data.

Situational Protocol

What to do if...

  • A participant is clearly nodding off or falling asleep during a task.
Enter the booth and ask the participant if they think they’ll be able to stay awake for the task. Let them know that their data will not be usable if they aren’t able to keep alert, and ask if they’d like to reschedule for another time when they will be able to stay awake. Make a note in the subject info sheet.
  • A participant is goofing off or using a cell phone during a task.
Enter the booth and adjust something to make sure they know you are observing them. If it’s a cell phone, tell them you need to take it and leave it outside the booth for them to get when the study is over. Make a note in the subject info sheet.
  • A participant seems to be having trouble with task or misunderstands the directions.
If it is very apparent that the subject does not understand the task, go in and give them a refresher on the instructions or see if they have any questions. Ask them to note their difficulties in the survey at the end so the experiment designer can provide clarification in the instructions if necessary. Make a note in the subject info sheet.
  • A subject shows up more than five minutes late.
This may vary based on the parameters of the study and your preferences. If you have allowed for a break between time slots and you feel the interruption will not influence the performance of the other participants, go ahead and run them. If the study requires that all participants begin at the same time (for example, if a participant should not overhear instructions about a second task while they are completing the first task), be considerate but firm and tell them to reschedule for another time when they can be punctual.
  • A subject is running over the allotted time for the study.
If the subject doesn’t seem bothered and you don’t have anyone waiting, let them continue. If the subject says they need to leave, let them know that their data won’t be usable if they leave before finishing the task. Tell them it would be extremely helpful to us if they could complete the task, and ask kindly if they wouldn’t mind staying a little longer to finish. Schedule 15 minute intervals between timeslots so that you don’t have subjects waiting for others to finish and to minimize noise pollution.