Testing Subjects






Research is the critical mission of all good psychology programs, both undergraduate and graduate, and the vast majority of such research involves the testing of human subjects. Our pool of subjects is therefore a critical resource. Use of this pool is a privilege, not a right, and procedures for testing subjects must be followed carefully. The cardinal rule is to treat people participating as subjects with courtesy and respect. Ethical treatment of participants is of paramount importance.

To meet the need for subjects, we draw primarily on students enrolled in our undergraduate courses, although we sometimes supplement this source with students from the University of Houston and Houston Community College and with paid or unpaid non-students. Outlined here are the Department's policies and procedures and attendant responsibilities. They must be followed by all who test subjects—graduate students, undergraduates, postdocs, and faculty. Anyone supervising undergraduate experimenters must make sure that they are aware of the procedures and have carefully read this document. The Department's Research Coordinator is responsible for enforcing these policies and procedures.

Subject allocation. Subject hours are allocated to faculty members. The following system does not guarantee the number of hours allocated, but it does work reasonably well: Each faculty member is normally allocated 100 subject hours + 50 hours per supervised graduate student + 25 hours per supervised undergraduate student registered for an "Independent Research" or an "Advanced Topics" course involving subject testing. It is important to note that these allocations are adjusted each semester, as the total number of available hours varies significantly from semester to semester. The allocation procedure applies for just the first 13 weeks of the semester; after that, there are no limits for any eligible user. Faculty members should confer with the pool administrator before recruiting to understand that semesters allocation. If it appears that someone is overusing the subject pool, the Research Coordinator will examine the case. Academics and researchers who are not regular members of the Department may request use of the subject pool. Such requests must be made on a study-by-study or semester-by-semester basis, whichever is the shorter, and must be sponsored by a regular faculty member of the Department other than the Research Coordinator. The Research Coordinator will consider the application in light of his or her judgment of the probable educational value of participation and of subject-hour availability.

The subject pool can be conserved and supplemented in the following ways:

  • Recruit subjects from other sources (e.g., Houston Community College, University of Houston). People who have portable experiments are especially encouraged to pursue this option.
  • Pay subjects. A lottery also works well.
  • Do field studies or use archival data.
  • Use the same subjects for multiple experiments (e.g., use the same subjects in a baseline condition for two studies).
  • Give credit in half-hour increments rather than filling any extra time with borderline research.
  • Collaborate with another experimenter to maximize time usage.
  • Utilize crowd sourcing subjects (e.g. Mechanical Turk)

To instructors of undergraduate psychology courses. Students taking Psychology 101 are required to participate in 5 hours of experiments or to complete a time-comparable alternative project. Although experiment participation is the preferred option—both with regard to subject availability and, more importantly, the education of the students—the alternative must be offered. The students may, at the discretion of the Instructor, also participate in additional hours of experiments for extra credit. Instructors of other undergraduate classes are generally expected to add their classes to the subject pool. Students' participation as subjects can either be made part of the course requirement or provided as an option for extra credit. Ideally, instructors will use both options. It is recommended that instructors require 3 hours and give extra credit for an additional 3 hours. Instructors who elect to give students extra credit should develop appropriate grading schemes. In the past, the guideline has been that students should receive 1% of the total possible points for the course as a whole for each hour of research participation up to a limit set by the instructor, but no student should be awarded more than 3% of the total possible points for extra credit. The extra credit points should be added to the students' scores after the final grade distribution for the course has been determined. Details of assignments offered as an alternative to experiment participation must be spelled out in the course syllabus.


Get certified. Before subjects can be tested in any experiment, everyone involved in the experiment must be trained and certified in the protection of human research subjects. Instructions for the CITI online training (Social and Behavioral Sciences module) can be obtained at:


Obtain approval. Approval for the conduct of any given research study must be obtained from both (i) the Rice University Institutional Review Board (IRB) for the Protection of Human Subjects and (ii) the Department Research Coordinator.

Application to the IRB should be made through Rice’s Cayuse IRB system. For instructions, navigate to https://cayuse.rice.edu/resources/cayuse-irb.

Protocol Form for Use of Human Subjects in Research

Only faculty can submit an IRB application, so work with your faculty sponsor to complete the application. Once IRB approval has been obtained, Department approval must be obtained from the Department’s Research Coordinator in order to secure Sona participants. To submit a study for approval, you must first setup the study on Sona. To do this, first navigate to “Add New Study” at the top of the Sona website. Follow the instructions and fill in all required information. Study descriptions should be brief, and not designed to entice. Never use an exclamation point! The following two descriptions are recommended as models:

  • Evaluate applicants for college admission. Credit: 1 hour.
  • You will be viewing the computer monitor and making a response to the stimuli. Credit: 1 hour.

Amount of credit should be stated exactly as in the two recommended examples. Never say "Get." Never say exactly how long the experiment takes (e.g., "Takes only 43.4 minutes!"). Just give the credit time.

Once you complete the setup of your study, you will be taken to a page showing the details of your study. Under “Study Status” is an icon labeled “Send Request”. Once you select “Send Request”, you must provide 4 pieces of information: 1) the approved IRB number, 2) the name of the faculty member who is supervising the research, 3) the name of the experimenter and 4) the number of participants that are planned. To determine whether your study has been approved, navigate to “My Studies”, which is located on the top left section of the Sona website. Under no circumstances may subjects be tested without Research Coordinator approval.

Schedule subjects. Soliciting subjects in classes is not allowed. Rather, recruitment should be entirely by way of Sona. To set up timeslots on Sona, navigate to the web page of your study. At the top right of the page, is an icon labeled “Study Menu”. Once you click this icon, select “View/Administer Time Slots”. To add a timeslot, select “Add A Timeslot” at the top of the web page. For online survey studies, the only timeslot needed is the last date on which you allow students to participate in your study. The last day to run participants every semester corresponds to the last day of classes. To determine the last day of classes for the current semester, visit the following website: https://registrar.rice.edu/calendars. Note that students will not be able to participate in your study unless you designate your study as “Active”.

What instructors should tell their students. Students should be directed to the Psychology Department’s webpage, where they should click on “Undergraduate Program” and then “Participation in Experiments”) and follow the instructions. This page contains the “Subjects’ Rights and Responsibilities,” the experiment credit hour sheet, a list of frequently asked questions, and contact information for more help, as well as instructions for getting an account, signing up for experiments, and assigning credit to courses. A direct link to this web page is: https://psychology.rice.edu/undergraduate/group/participation-experiments. For more information. Contact the Sona Administrator Isabel Bilotta (ib13@rice.edu).


Show up for the experiment. If the experimenter is not at the agreed location at the stated time, the posted credit must be awarded to the subject and charged to the experimenter's subject account. If the time or the location of the experiment changes, or if the session is canceled for some reason, subjects must be informed beforehand. If that is not possible, someone should be present at the location to inform of the change in venue or to issue credits. If the subjects show up and for some reason are not used, then either the session should be re-scheduled (if the subject is willing) or the subjects should be given the posted credit.

Document informed consent. Subjects must be informed in general terms about the procedure and must consent. Exceptions to the requirement for written informed consent for nonexempt research are possible in certain narrowly defined circumstances, but in all cases approval by the chair of the IRB is required. Informed consent should be signed in duplicate, with one copy being given to the subject and one retained by the experimenter. The experimenter’s copies should be stored in a secure fashion in the sponsoring lab as specified by university and funding organization guidelines. These records should be available for inspection by the Department Research Coordinator, the IRB, and the relevant federal authorities. The head of the lab (i.e., the sponsoring faculty member) is ultimately responsible for maintenance of these records. More generally, experimenters must be sure that their research does not endanger the welfare of subjects. The APA guidelines concerning informed consent, confidentiality, and subjects' right to privacy are helpful in these matters. Any experimenter who uses coercion to ensure that a subject remains in an experiment will be subject to severe disciplinary action. All subjects must be adequately informed by the experimenter of the procedures to be followed. Any discomforts, risks, as well as benefits, should be described. Risks must be well-defined in terms understandable to the subjects.

Promptly assign credit. Experimenters must assign credit via Sona as soon as possible after each subject’s participation. Any subject not credited within 24 hours will be asked to report the matter to both the experimenter and the Research Coordinator. Students are encouraged to keep their own personal record of experiment participation.

Make the experience educational. Experimenters must make participation in their study a learning experience. As all trained psychologists are aware, mere participation as subjects is informative and indeed an essential ingredient of an adequate undergraduate program. But in addition, each subject should be given a written account of the purpose of various aspects of the study. This account need not be given immediately after participation if the experimenter feels that doing so will affect the responses of later subjects. But it must be provided as soon as possible after the experiment is completed or at the end of the semester, whichever is sooner.