Participant Pools 

Participant pools are a convenient way for researchers to access individuals (typically undergraduate students) who are ready to participate in research. Student participant pools are generally organized around a particular discipline and help to facilitate students’ access to research as part of their educational experience as well. Participants in the pools often take pre-study measures that help researchers more efficiently access information about the participants without requiring the participants to take the same measures multiple times. In most cases, the students earn course credit, though they should be given other opportunities to earn course credit should they decide not to participate in a study. Although a student may be in a researcher’s class, when the researcher recruits from the larger pool (instead of directly in the class) it helps to remove potential coercion regarding grades (though the relationship between professor/researcher and student/participant should still be handled carefully; please see Students as Participants for more information). If you are interested in using students from a participant pool, it is important that you consider the educational value that you can offer your participants and include the educational insight as part of their participation. The interaction you have with the student, particularly with the consent process and educational debriefing session, are opportunities for you to share more about your research and what it means to be a researcher, helping future researchers to better understand the process.

Creating a New Participant Pool

The regulations for organizing a participant pool are outlined in an IRB protocol and are reviewed by the IRB-SBS Board for approval. If you are creating a new participant pool, the information about the pool will need to be submitted as if you are submitting a protocol. Please provide the following information to the board with information:

  • An individual who will oversee the pool (i.e. the primary investigator)
  • How the participants will be contacted about the pool
  • What the participants will need to do in order to participate
  • What instruments they will take (if any)
  • How their information will be distributed to interested researchers
  • A detailed description of the alternative activities* for earning credit that the students can do if they decide not to participate in a study
  • A consent form that describes this information to the participant and describe how consent will be obtained.

If you have questions regarding creating a new participant pool, please contact Bronwyn Blackwood.

* Please note that alternative activities need to be accessible to different academic levels (i.e. first year versus a fourth year) and the student should be able to complete the project in an amount of time that is comparable to their participation in a study.

Curry Participant Pool

Although all students in Curry are invited to participate in the pool, only the incoming class is specifically asked to participate.  Students are invited during their Foundations of Education class.  After consenting to participate in the pool, students agree to release their core data (high school and college records, SAT, GRE, and PRAXIS scores, if applicable), as well as complete several online surveys or research tasks.

Credit Hours
The students agree to complete at least 5 credit hours of participant pool studies. Credit hours are awarded based on the amount of time required to complete the study (i.e. .5 credit hours for a thirty minute survey).

Debriefing Participants

The researcher is required to debrief the participants when the study is completed.  The purpose of the debriefing is to enhance the educational experience of the students participating in the research and help them to pursue research questions of their own (for more information, please see Educational Debriefing Sessions).

Storing Data
The data collected from participants in the Curry Pool will be stored in a data warehouse on the Curry School server.  The data will not contain names but will be identified by a multi-digit code; the master list and code will be kept by Dr. Nancy Spekman.  In order for Curry faculty and students to access the data, the pool must be larger than 500, the researcher must have IRB approval, and the researcher must have approval from the Teaching Assessment Initiative Grant Review Committee (now the Research Advisory Council).  Researchers are required to sign an agreement that they will not share the data with other students or staff and they will delete the requested information when their research is complete.  Researchers will only be provided with the data fields that are necessary to complete their studies.

Non-participating Students
If a student decides not to participate in the pool, alternative assignments are available.  Students can read an article in an education journal and write a two-page paper analyzing the article.  Each paper is worth one credit hour and students who don’t participate in the pool must complete five papers.  If a student in the participant pool decides to withdraw from a study and is short the required credit hours, the student may also complete the alternative assignment option to supplement the requirement (i.e. if a student needs three more credits, he or she can write three papers). If there are not enough study opportunities provided to meet the five credit hour requirement, participant pool students will not be required to complete the full requirement and non-participants will be exempted from writing papers.

Psychology Participant Pool

The Psychology Department maintains a protocol with the IRB-SBS to allow them to test participants in the department for future studies (approx. 900 participants).  The participants take a variety of questionnaires (the number changes each year depending on who is using the pool) via the Internet; their responses are kept in a confidential database.  Researchers who are interested in targeting particular groups of students will use the information in the database to contact students to participate in their studies.  Some sections of the pre-test require special permission to access due to the sensitive nature of the questions being asked.

The database can also be used for research if the researcher obtains the information stripped of identifiers.  
Students who participate in studies via the participant pool earn class participation credit that is awarded based on the length of time required for the study. The students are encouraged to participate in studies as part of their educational experience in the behavioral sciences.  In order to enhance this experience, the Board requires researchers who use the participant pool to provide the participants with a debriefing statement explaining in greater detail the study and research process.

Please note that only students enrolled in Fall and Spring courses will receive credit. If you are including participants from the Psychology Participant Pool in a study, please make students aware of this fact. Consider including the following text in your consent form:

Payment: You will receive either ___ experimental credits or $____ for completing today’s session. Note: experimental credit for the Department of Psychology Participant Pool is only available during the Fall or Spring semester when you are enrolled in a participating psychology class.

The Behavioral Research at Darden (BRAD) Lab

Please see the BRAD website for more information about this participant pool. 

Educational Debriefing

A debriefing session takes place after a participant completes their portion of the study (or when a participant decides to withdraw from a study before the study is complete). There are two types of debriefing sessions, an educational debriefing session and a post-deception debriefing session. Both sessions will function in essentially the same manner; i.e. the researcher will meet with the participant after their participation ends to discuss the study and provide the participant with a written debriefing statement. The purpose of an educational debriefing session is to provide a participant with educational feedback regarding the study; this information may also be included in a post-deception debriefing session, but the purpose of this session is to also discuss any deception in a study and explain why a participant was deceived. This method may also be used for participants who were involved in a study where the study was potentially upsetting or concerning, and the debriefing session will be used to help the participant better understand the context for their upsetting experience, as well as help the researcher gauge the participant’s response and if any additional help is needed to ameliorate the study’s affects. It is possible that a study involving participant pool participants could incorporate both types of debriefing methods (though this could be combined into one session and one debriefing form); however, if you are using a participant pool, you are only required to provide the educational debriefing session unless your study otherwise mandates additional debriefing methods (please see Post-Deception Debrief for more information).

The educational debriefing helps the researcher meet the educational mandate required in order to use a participant pool in his or her study. In addition to providing a debriefing form, consider the following when you are interacting with students in a debriefing session (as provided by the Psychology Pool):

(1) Unless other circumstances disallow it, ideal debriefings are done verbally and interactively with participants (in addition to providing the standard written debriefing).
(2) Debriefings should always use non-technical language and provide participants with a clear sense of the main question and why we are bothering to try to figure out the answer.
(3) Debriefings might begin with open-ended questions to the participant to engage them in thinking about the exercises they just completed e.g., What do you think the study was about? Why do you think we asked you to run in place for 10 minutes? Do you think that the presence of the large spider led to your constant screaming?
(4) Participants can be presented with the hypothesis and/or study design and asked to generate and explain their own predictions about the eventual results, or about their own performance.
(5) For methodological circumstances in which the experimenter cannot be aware of the critical hypothesis, experimenters can discuss background topics and related research or other aspects of the research process (e.g., Why are study rooms so drab? What are the measures intending to assess? Why did we ask about body piercings?).
(6) Participants could be given the option to add their name to a list of people who will be sent a summary of the results at the end of the semester.

Information Included in a Debriefing Statement

The debriefing statement needs to explain three elements:

  1. Why the experiment was developed and why the deception was necessary.
  2. What the current research says about the topic, which includes providing two references (text, article, on-line reference) that the participants can reasonably access and understand (if you have an academic and non-academic population, you may need to provide more than one version of the debriefing statement or make sure that the references can be accessed by the least educated of the population).
  3. Any additional resources that would be useful for the participant. Resources need to be appropriate and accessible for the participants. For example, if you are conducting a study on parenting, you could include community resources for parenting classes or recommendations for parenting guides.

Please keep the information clear and concise, and make sure to include contact information for the IRB-SBS. The debriefing statement will be reviewed by the IRB-SBS and may be reviewed by the approval committee for the participant pool, so it is important that you provide an adequate document that won’t need revisions from multiple committees.

Sample Educational Debriefing Statement

Perceptions and Cognitive Processing

Thank you for agreeing to participate in this study!

Much research has shown that mood can influence the way we process information. People in happy moods tend to see “the forest”—they focus on the big picture, and notice more (and often unusual) relationships between things. People in sad moods, however, tend to process information in the opposite way: they see “the trees,” and their focus becomes more detail-oriented and concrete. In this study we hypothesized that we could produce this difference in global/local processing with two different positive mindsets: amusement and profundity.

In the current study we presented a series of photos or sentences that typically put people in a positive mood. We then asked you to rate the items in terms of how funny or how profound they seemed. You then completed one or more tasks to assess your style of thinking. The research on positive mood discussed above suggests that these positive feelings should make people focus globally (on the forest). What we wanted to know was whether the type of ratings people made would influence their style of thinking. Specifically, we predict that participants who rated the items for humor will have more of a local, detail-oriented, “only the trees” type of focus. If the results support our hypothesis, future research will ask why this was the case. One possibility is that humor often involves an attempt to make “big,” complicated, or abstract phenomena seem smaller, more obvious, and more concrete.

Thanks again for participating. Please do not divulge the purpose of this experiment to other people in the subject pool!

If you have further questions or concerns regarding this experiment, please contact XX @virginia.edu or YY @virginia.edu. In addition, if you have any concerns about any aspect of the study, you may contact NAME OF CURRENT CHAIR, Ph.D., Chair, Institutional Review Board for the Social and Behavioral Sciences, One Morton Drive, Suite 500, University of Virginia, P.O. Box 800392, Charlottesville, VA 22908-0392. Telephone: (434) 924-5999.

References: Gasper, K., & Clore, G. L. (2000). Do you have to pay attention to your feelings in order to be influenced by them? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 698 - 711.

Gasper, K., & Clore, G. L. (2002). Attending to the big picture: Mood and global versus local processing of visual information. Psychological Science, 13, 33-39.