Hundreds of online psychology experiments are going on at any given time, many cool and amusing to take part in. They’re great for researchers due to the ease and low cost of finding subjects, and because of that, more data. There are drawbacks, though. The University of Essex’s Department of Psychology points out: “… factors may cause the data to become less clear, for example: everyone uses different types of computers and monitors; we can’t be sure they have understood the instructions properly and we have no idea who is actually doing the experiments.” Debate is ongoing but the popularity of online studies keeps growing too.
By design these studies are ephemeral, disappearing from the web once a deadline is reached or enough data collected. In this Top Ten list we’ve chosen to focus on experiments that are long-term, or if data is no longer collected you can still do the experiment for fun. And they are fun!
1. You Just Get Me is a social psychology experiment about personality impressions. Lovely software design, simple to use, great functions and it’s visually appealing. Test yourself on five measure of personality (based on the IPIP-NEO psychology scale) presented in a bubble graph, then try to guess the qualities of other people while they guess yours (check out mine). Blog widgets, credits, invites, personalized t-shirts, member messaging, and a Facebook application: this is more than a social experiment, it’s also social media.
2. Bad Vibes. Sound psychology experiment from Salford University to find out what makes a sound unpleasant. Although its experimental data collection phase is over, with much-publicized results that announced “the worst sound in the world,” it’s still online to try for fun and compare your tastes to others. Fingernails on a blackboard? Babies screaming? Dentist’s drill? The site also offers a mixer to play with, and if you want to torment your friends some sounds are available as free ringtones.
3. The Stroop Test is a well-known neuropsychological test named for John Ridley Stroop, who published on it in English in 1935. It has found many applications since. It tests how flexible and fast your thinking is, basically, and is used in situations ranging from judging the effects of oxygen depletion on Everest climbers to addiction research to blog memes. The name of a colour is presented with the typeface in a different colour; your ability to say the colour and not the word, and how long it takes you, reveals your reaction to the interference.
4. FaceResearch.org. Rate attractiveness (facial, voice, different ages, etc.) and other qualities alongside questionnaires about your hormonal cycles, tastes and attitudes in Flash-based tests designed by psychologists at the University of Aberdeen. In some you are shown a pair of faces and asked to choose your preference (of whatever quality is being tested) and in others you rate images on a 1-10 scale. When complete you’re told what research it’s based on and how your result compares to others.
5. The Concept of Intentional Action. Experimental philosophy asks people what they think instead of assuming they think the way the philosopher believes they do. Joshua Knobe is a Princeton researcher in this new field, known for his work on moral judgment, intentions, and theory of mind (understanding other people’s intents and views). He conducted this experiment to study perceptions of morality and intent. Data has already been published but it will stay up for you to examine your own beliefs, compare to others, and learn about the theories behind the questions.
6. Project Implicit. The Implicit Association Test is a sorting test that assumes people don’t openly express their social biases. To gauge any unspoken implicit biases toward one’s own social group, the IAT measures interference between conflicting categories. Respond to words related to self and to and others’ faces, using different buttons – then the images switch and conflict arises when using the same button for those categories. Project Implicit has been running this experiment online for ten years and collected data from 3.5 million tests. From the original test about racial bias there are now also fun variants like “Are You Human or Alien?” The IAT is controversial – cognitive psychologist Chris of the blog Mixing Memory says, “…there is no real evidence that it measures attitudes, much less prejudices. In fact, it’s not at all clear what it measures, though the fact that its psychometric properties are pretty well defined at least implies that it measures something.” If results say you’re a space alien, that’s just a measure of fun.
7. Basic Music Intervals. This is my fave test on the Cognitive Fun site. It tests music cognition by having you identity piano music intervals, listening and reacting with a simple visual interface. Not sure what a music interval is? Don’t worry, the demonstration is clear and you can practice with it as long as you like. Whether or not you’re a budding musician, it will help you test and develop this musical listening skill.
8. Face Transformer from the Perception Lab at the School of Psychology, University of St Andrews, Scotland. Another collection of face perception experiments. Face Transformer has you move a slider bar to morph computer-generated faces, making them attractive to you, and then morphing again to appear optimally healthy. This experiment tests “…how people rate another person’s weight from facial cues, and how, if at all, their perception is influenced by their own body type and body image.” As with other facial perception experiments, hormones affect your judgment. A fun test, but I felt it took a bit too much time.
9. Visual Phenomena & Other Psychological Diversions. The University of Essex offers some experiments based on visual illusions. The Muller-Lyer illusion, Café Wall illusion, etc. Each experiment tests you then graphs your results with overall data, with a discussion of what is being tested. My only complaint is that, unless this too is illusional, several images are broken and can’t be accessed (i.e. Thatcher illusion).
10. Casual Fridays at Cognitive Daily. A popular feature of this great blog are its weekly series of online experiments. Each Friday, Greta and Dave Munger design an interactive test for their readers based on research, news, theories or plain curiosity, and the following week they write up the results. For example, to see if they could predict what readers thought after a short quiz (as an unrelated web site claimed it could) readers were invited to take the survey. The next Friday they explained their methods and published graphs to deconstruct results, then invited readers to comment. The conversations in the comments can be just as provocative as the tests. Dave and Greta are on a well-deserved vacation now but will bring Casual Fridays back in September. Here’s a list of their past experiments to enjoy browsing until then. (Casual Fridays is now defunct with the closure of Cognitive Daily.)
Honorable mentions: Psychological Research on the Net is a fantastic meta-list of online psychology experiments. Most experiments disappear once the researchers meet their requirements (or they ought to) so lists like this one are essential to find out what’s new (and also, in a way, what’s hot in research). Sponsored the by Hanover College Psychological Department, this list does a great job at keeping up to date. They categorize studies into Mental Health, Personality, Positive Psychology, Psychology and Religion, Sensation and Perception, Sexuality, Social Psychology, Sport Psychology, Neuropsychology, Cognition, Consumer Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Emotions, Forensic Psych, Health Psychology, Industrial/Organizational, Decisions, Linguistics, General, and if that’s not enough, another long list of other meta-lists. Similarly, WebExperiment.net links to but also hosts experiments, with new ones added regularly. Both of these sites also publish results of the experiments if the researchers later supply it.
Help them learn while you learn about yourself — take a test!