Internet-based experiments are widely used in a number of disciplines related to the Social Sciences, particularly in Psychology, Political Science, and Economics. As far as Psychology is concerned, many web-based experiments are conducted in the areas of Cognitive Psychology and Social Psychology. This form of experimental research has increased in popularity because they offer ample opportunities for researchers.
What are Internet-based experiments?
A web-based experiment (also known as an internet-based experiment) is, as the name implies, an experiment conducted through this tool. In such experiments, the internet is a medium through which to search and find very diverse samples, with reduced administrative and financial costs. Alternatively, many consider it a field of research in the Social Sciences in its own right.
It is worth noting that Internet Studies is an interdisciplinary field that encompasses Sociology, Psychology, Pedagogy, as well as culture and art.
Advantages of Internet-based experiments
Compared to traditional sample collection methodologies (in person, by mail, or by phone), recruiting online participants offers several different advantages: faster data collection, larger samples, cost reductions, and, what is more important, more diverse populations. Arguably, online samples are more representative of the national population than a typical population sample.
Experiments over the network are significantly cheap. This allows the researcher to reach more diverse samples, as well as rare or specific sub-populations. It also allows for faster experiments, as well as recruiting large groups of subjects, thereby providing greater statistical power and conducting social experiments across different cultures in real time.
These benefits have the advantage that they can be translated into external validity. In other words, the conclusions of the study have the ability to be applied outside the context of said study. For example, in social science experiments the subjects of study are typically Western university students. By doing the experiment online, the pool of subjects to study expands to levels that cover almost everyone.
Types of Experiments
This method of experimental inquiry has become very popular because researchers can collect large amounts of data from a wide range of places and people.
There is no research without experimentation. However, its integration with the possibilities offered by the internet has not been immediate, it has been gradual. The experiments are divided into three categories:
Controlled experiments: they are made in a laboratory, where they try to control all the variables, to verify a unique effect.
Natural experiments:They are carried out after a large-scale event that is very difficult or impossible to control. All possible variables are collected and then the correlations are observed.
Field Experiments:They are observed in a natural environment, where fewer controls are applied. They have the advantage of external validation.
Adapting each of these types of experiments to the Internet is difficult, not automatic, and often faces some obstacles.
Uses of Internet Based Experiments
Uses in Economic Sciences: Researchers Jerome Hergueux and Nicolas Jacquemet developed an online "laboratory" to compare social preferences and risk aversion both online and in person. They administered an aversion test, a Public Good game, a Trust game, a Dictator game, and an Ultimatum game to groups both online and in a lab, as a way of determining the internal validity of internet experimentation in Economy.
Uses in Political Science: An experiment conducted online for 61 million Facebook users wanted to find out whether to receive information on voting, polling places, and the voting behavior of their friends. It led individuals to seek information on politics, as well as to find out if it influenced political self-expression and / or changed behavior when voting in real elections.
Uses in Web-based experiments: Web-based experiments have particular relevance to research on how online communities operate. Internet Studies, including studies of online communities and social media, have conducted field experiments to understand the effects of informal rewards on article production by fellow editors on Wikipedia, as well as the impact of early recognition and support for future successes on Kickstarter, Change.org, Epinions and Wikipedia.
Platforms to do Internet-based Experiments
Qualtrics combines survey creation tools with data storage and hosting. However, Qualtrics only supports the collection of survey style data, be it free text, multiple choice answers, rating scales, etc. Its randomization tools allow researchers, for example, to assign participants different blocks of questions to answer, or different materials to read, look at or listen to.
The surveys are integrated into Qualtrics using a graphical interface, which means that it is easy to run an experiment and no programming knowledge is required. The "Survey Flow" panel shows how participants progress through the experiment and allows you to control when assignment to condition occurs.
Gorilla is a specialized online experiment hosting service that provides complete design tools, in addition to data storage and hosting. This platform supports complex experimental tasks like N-back, implicit association tests, prisoner's dilemmas, and game-like tests like Tetris and the Tower of Hanoi. Multiple input methods are available (such as mouse, keyboard, voice recording, and basic eye tracking). Responses are recorded with millisecond precision, making it an appropriate platform for cognitive assessment.
The design of the experiments in Gorilla is done through a graphical user interface, which separates the general flow of the survey and the randomization of the essential details of any task that you can use. It's easy to add survey style questions among more complex tasks and visualize how participants will be assigned to each condition. Gorilla has extensive features and options, which means it can be overwhelming for a new user. And, while using a graphical interface for most of your studio design, once you get past the basics, Gorilla can get complex very quickly.
Platforms developed by the Researcher
Sometimes the study you have planned is too particular for any existing solution. For example, a real money prediction market to explore how a person's prior beliefs affect the likelihood of a bet being made. Another example might be testing thousands of Western speakers to understand how Chinese place names are pronounced. Or perhaps a collaborative contest, with teams made up of other online players. Or also a longitudinal investigation on whether a more gamified task can reduce the attrition of the participants. That said, there are a few libraries where you can search for references:
lab.js: is a library for building social science experiments. Includes a graphic generator of experiments. However, technical knowledge is required to implement an online study.
JSPsych: is a script-based library with a collection of psychological tasks.
Firebase: Finally, if we want to build our experiment from scratch, then Firebase is quite possibly the simplest data storage and hosting platform on the web, and PixiJS provides robust functionality for displaying graphics accurately within the browser.
Advantages and Disadvantages of the Platforms developed by the Researcher
The main advantage of an experiment performed from 0 is total flexibility. Cost is often not an issue as there are many free experimental libraries available, and data storage on a platform like Firebase is very accessible for most research projects.
However, there are some downsides. The skills required to schedule online experiments are not quick or easy to learn, and support comes only from limited documentation and community forums. However, self-development also means that practical details, like server load and data security, become issues to be concerned about.
At Online-tesis.com, we are here to answer all your questions about how to conduct an experiment efficiently, whether it is based on the Internet or in conventional laboratories.
In addition to its increase in use and professionalism, a future trend for Internet-based experiments may be the development of more specialized web-based methods. However, each research project has its own complexities, twists and turns.
Choosing how we want to build our experiment implies a compromise between the requirements of the study design, the type of data we intend to collect and practical things such as technical experience, cost, etc.
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Schmidt, W. C. (1997). World Wide Web survey research: Benefits, potential problems, and solutions. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, and Computers, 29, 274-279.