Research Participant

Being crazy can be profitable.
During the past two years I’ve participated in around 20 paid psychology research studies.

I have such a hard time talking in therapy, but research studies are easy. I don’t have to worry about their reactions to things I say. I’ll probably never see them again.

It might seem strange to do because I am so touchy about therapy confidentiality. I’ve never been burned with research study confidentiality. In my head I feel they take it more seriously, but that may just be a rationalization.

I never do treatment studies. I’m not comfortable with that. So no taking experimental drugs or going to excessively rigid short term therapy for me. Mostly I fill out surveys and do short activities or tests.

It’s not something for everyone. A lot of tough issues get brought up. The same detached, methodical approach that helps me here might be very upsetting for others.

It’s educational and helps me out financially. I get a sense of what studies are being done and observe their methodology.

Sometimes I spot flaws with the ways data is gathered. Tiny things that will never make it into the final paper but might impact the results. I make mental notes to avoid those in the studies my future self will conduct.

You’d be amazed at how many surveys with questions about sex are written in a heteronormative fashion.
I realize it’s not so simple to fix an empirically validated measure as changing one question. Whole new testing would need to be done to make sure the change doesn’t hurt its validity.

It’s also not always immediately clear how best to fix a question to make it more inclusive.

For example some social anxiety measures ask specifically about anxiety around the opposite sex.
For homosexuals the question can’t just be changed to “same sex”. The question isn’t asking about only people whom you might potentially date. It’s asking about the entire gender.
The type of interactions lesbian women have with straight women (the majority of women) can’t properly be compared to the interactions straight women have with straight men (the majority of men).
Changing the wording to “same sex” (as some research assistants have told me to do) changes the question’s meaning. And what about bisexuals? Should it just be changed to “everyone” for them?

It’s not so simple either to change the question to only address specific people who you feel sexual attraction to. Again this is a new question, because the original discussed an entire gender. A whole separate research study would need to be conducted to validate these changes.

Another problem is with risky behavior measures. Many ask about birth control. Yes, I have had sex without using a form of birth control, but I highly doubt either of us will get pregnant seeing as no sperm were involved.

It’s clear a number of commonly used measures need to be updated. I understand that people are opting to work with what’s available, but they also need to realize this might impact their results.
Lesbians who are less conscientious than I might just answer the questions (I mention the problem to the research assistant) without thinking about the context the questions are asked in.
These types of questions are not a rare occurrence.

On average my interactions with researchers and research assistants have been quite positive. I wouldn’t describe it as warm and fuzzy. It’s a business arrangement. We’re both clear on the expectations and everything works out well.

However, one particular researcher got under my skin. He was a lisenced psychologist, there to go through a structured clinical interview with me to determine if I qualified for their study. As we went through the questions he’d throw out unsolicited bits of advice and comments. Comments like how I shouldn’t self-injure, etc. Completely inappropriate.
I continued through the questions, answering honestly, but it would have been all too easy for me close off. If it had been therapy I would have stopped talking and stared at the wall. I kept going. The things I do to preserve the quality of data.
I considered dropping out of the study, but the pay was good and I only had to have tiny interactions with him after the first day, so I stuck with it. Everyone else in the study was great.

Often when people outside of the field think of psychology studies they think of studies using horrible unethical forms of deception. There’s so much regulation with IRBs that the risk of this is low. In the worst and only deception I’ve encountered in a study, I was told I was playing a computer game against a real person, but it was really a computer. Pretty harmless stuff, but they were still required to tell me it in the debriefing.

I’m very dodgy with telling therapists about my involvement in research. I participated in several research studies over the summer while I was in therapy with S.M. I went to therapy 3 times a week. In therapy 3 times a week, concealing activities becomes harder. I hid it up until the last week when I casually mentioned it, trying to be nonchalant while fighting off a grin. He handled it very well. I was worried he’d wonder why I had trouble talking to him, but could talk to researchers. It ended up being a non-issue.

Participating in these studies is something I’ve enjoyed, but I need to stop or at least cut back on it. I can’t have my professional life merge with my crazy one. I’m getting to know more local people in my field. The risk of encountering someone I know or who knows someone I know is rising.
I have one last appointment to participate in a study. The office is it in is one floor above where a number of people I know work. I did a Facebook search of the research assistant and sure enough we have a mutual friend. I’m going to go through with this study because I think the subject is intriguing, but it’s a warning sign that I need to cut back.
I don’t want to say for sure this is the last one, but I will definitely be doing fewer.