New tools for online behavioural experiments

Today’s research group meeting we’ve discussed whether we would consider changing the way we’ve been performing experiments so far and doing online experiments as a group (due to the current COVID-19 situation with no prospects to come back to the lab any soon).

In general terms, some of us agreed to invest their time in learning how to program in a new language and adapt their behavioural experiments to an online format for the next weeks. Others (especially, those doing EEG studies) agreed that it’s not worth it to go online (given the topic of their thesis). Instead, they would rather focus on the new protocols that can be implemented when we’re back to the lab (hopefully in September) and go straight to do EEG experiments.

In the middle of the meeting, some brought up this paper:

Behav Res (2020). DOI:

A primer on running human behavioural experiments online.

Grootswagers, T.

Abstract. Moving from the lab to an online environment opens up the enormous potential to collect behavioural data from thousands of participants with the click of a button. However, getting the first online experiment running requires familiarisation with a number of new tools and terminologies. There exist a number of tutorials and hands-on guides that can facilitate this process, but these are often tailored to one specific online platform. The aim of this paper is to give a broad introduction to the world of online testing. This will provide a high-level understanding of the infrastructure before diving into specific details with more in-depth tutorials. Becoming familiar with these tools allows one to move from hypothesis to experimental data within hours.

To sum up, the author exposes three reasons why researchers should opt for online instead of lab-based testing:

  • More efficient. Large numbers of participants can be tested simultaneously.
  • Better population representation. Participants from the online platforms are a better reflection of the general population than the undergraduate students who typically participate in experiments on campus.
  • More economical. Online experiments are more economical because there is no need to spend time recruiting, scheduling, and testing participants.

This paper aims to facilitate the process of running online experiments by introducing the basics concepts of it given the author’s lab experience. It is intended to serve as a high-level overview, and guide the reader to relevant in-depth literature, reviews, and tutorials.

The author concludes the paper saying that online experiments offer a larger and cheaper participant testing in a short time compared to lab-based experiments. However, even they can be a suitable option to answer research questions they also have some research limitations: restriction for some stimulus modalities and lack of experimental control. You’ll never know if the participant is listening to music while doing the experiment, watching their children or looking at the phone.


Feature image from Pexels – C0 license.


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