Psychology Department Subject Pool Information

Psychology Department Subject Pool Information


This information is for Psychology Faculty and Graduate Student users of the subject pool system. Please read this information carefully!

This webpage summarizes basic information about the subject pool. Note that this webpage is not intended to teach you how to use the system. That is mostly self-explanatory once you log on, but documentation is available (see below).

Administrative, procedural, and policy questions may be addressed to the subject pool administrator ()

Using the Subject Pool

Only University Park Psychology faculty may receive Principal Investigator (PI) accounts and subject hour allotments. The subject pool coordinator will distribute an email soliciting allotment requests approximately 3 weeks prior to fall semester, again near the end of fall semester for spring semester, and again near the end of spring semester for summer sessions.

Subject hour allocations are made to PIs (faculty members) based on the requests received. While every attempt will be made to accommodate requests, the subject pool coordinator may adjust allotments downward depending on demand. It is the responsibility of the PI to divide these allocations among the studies for which they are responsible, and to track the use of hours. The system automatically tracks PI hour usage internally and once the allocation is used up, no more slots may be scheduled for studies associated with that PI. Allocations may be increased on request later in the semester depending on availability of hours in the pool.

Every study in the subject pool system will be associated with a PI, and may in addition be associated with one or more Researchers. The PI must be the Psychology faculty member who is responsible for the study. Please do not confuse the Subject Pool PI with the IRB PI, who might be a graduate student.

Each faculty member requesting use of the subject pool will have a PI account and be assigned a Principal Investigator ID, which will be their PSU email ID. Faculty members who are also instructors of courses participating in the subject pool will receive separate Instructor IDs to allow them to view participation records of their students.

Faculty PIs automatically receive their own Researcher accounts.

ALL individuals with researcher accounts listed in the subject pool system must have completed the IRB web-based training and passed the on-line quiz.

Requests for researcher accounts MUST be submitted by the faculty member/PI. Researchers may be graduate students, undergraduate students, or laboratory staff members. To request researcher accounts, a faculty member needs to send the following information to the subject pool administrator ()

  • Researcher name (first and last)
  • Researcher’s PSU email ID

The researcher will receive an email with their initial password, which they may change when they log in to the system.

A researcher may work with several faculty PIs, but their name should appear on the list of researchers approved by each faculty member they work with. Thus, if you are a PI and want a student to work on one of your projects, you must submit their information even if they already have a subject pool account because they work with another faculty.

Each semester PIs will be asked to request Researcher accounts, even for individuals continuing from one semester to another. Researcher accounts that are not associated with a current request will be purged. As you all know, graduate students and undergraduate students are transient and many move on after a given semester. This policy ensures that the system is not bogged down with researcher accounts for individuals who are no longer actively working with the PI.

New studies are added to the subject pool by PIs or by researchers, but a new study will not be active or visible to participants until it has been approved. PIs and Researchers must create their study in the system prior to requesting activation. We cannot create your study for you, she simply activates it and makes it visible. All studies must have a faculty PI. For a study to be approved, the following must be on file with the the subject pool administrator ()

  • IRB Approval
  • Consent Form
  • Debriefing Form
  • Study Title used in Subject Pool

Once the information for a new study has been entered into the system by a PI/Researcher, you must contact the the subject pool administrator () to request approval. Assuming required materials are on file, approval will normally take no more than 24 hours (but studies added after noon on Friday may not be approved until Monday afternoon). If you are adding a study with a pending IRB approval, you can enter the information, but please contact the administrator for approval only after a copy of the IRB approval has been submitted.

Basic Steps for Adding New Studies:

Step 1: Log in and choose “Add a New Study.”

Step 2: When you complete the form to add the study; make sure you do the following:

  • Select the correct PI to whom the subject hours will be charged.
  • Link the appropriate Researchers to the study.
  • Set “pretest restrictions” by clicking “yes”, marking “status,” and then marking “I am 18 or older and have no objection to research participation.” This restricts your study to eligible subject pool participants (some students are under 18 and a few are conscientious objectors to the research participation requirement).
  • Set “course restrictions” by choosing the appropriate courses from which students may participate. Please note: either appropriate classes or “screening invitation” can be chosen but not both (see mass screening info here), summer classes should only be chosen during the summer semester, non-summer classes other than world campus should not be chosen during the summer, world campus classes can only be selected for web-based studies, most standard lab studies should be set for all appropriate sections of PSYCH 100, 100 honors and 105.
  • All study times must be posted in 30-minute increments and match the number of credits offered (at .5 credits per 30 minutes), in order for the system to work correctly. It is appropriate to round up; for example, if the study actually takes 45 minutes, please post it as 60 minutes and 1 credit. A 30-minute study is worth .5 credits, a 60-minute study is worth 1 credit, a 90-minute study is worth 1.5 credits, etc. 
  • We discourage studies that take substantially less than 30-minutes. We recommend adding additional data collection (even for another approved study) to the session to make it 30-minutes.

Step 3: When you are ready to make it active and visible for participant signup, click the “contact administrator” link near the bottom of the “add study” page.

This will send email to the subject pool administrator letting us know you have a study ready for approval.

We will check that an IRB approval, consent form, and debriefing are on file. Make sure that we have the information to make this check, by (a) filling in the IRB approval number, and (b) emailing the subject pool administrator () with the required documentation.

We will check the description to make sure it contains nothing inappropriate, then approve the study to make it visible to participants. We will make every effort to approve studies within 24-36 hours, but it is better to allow more time (and we don’t work weekends!).

Researchers or PIs may add new studies at any point, if subject hours remain in the PI’s subject pool allotment.

Adding On-Line Studies

Hosting: All on-line studies must be hosted by an external server (e.g., survey monkey, psychdata). Although Sona has a minimalistic survey application, it has very limited capacity/options and is not available for departmental investigators to use for hosting on-line studies. Given our size and the number of on-line studies the department runs, it would severely tax the system and would require subject pool administrators to manage them in various ways. Therefore our policy is that all on-line studies must be hosted by an external server.

Granting Credit: On-line studies hosted on external servers do not automatically grant participation credit within the SONA system. Students may sign up for on-line studies using the subject pool website, but credit is not automatically granted when the student completes an externally hosted on-line study. Granting credit for these studies is completed the same way a direct recruit study is credited. Investigators must grant credit manually. Be sure your on-line study includes appropriate information to ensure you can confirm participation and manaully grant credit via your study’s timeslots. Participants who have signed up will have an “awaiting action” indicator to prompt you to grant credits.

All studies using the subject pool must have IRB approval, and participants must receive a written “debriefing” that describes the purpose of the study at a level that is appropriate for introductory psychology students. Please note that this educational debriefing is required for subject pool participants, regardless of whether the IRB would require a debriefing for your particular study. The debriefing should link the purpose of the study to concepts typically covered in PSY 100, should be about one typed page in length, and should provide contact information in case the participant has questions. Generally, participants should receive a written copy of the debriefing at completion of the study; exceptions to this must be approved in advance.

If the PI on the IRB approval is not a Psychology Department faculty member, be sure to indicate the responsible faculty member as the subject pool PI.

The subject pool is shut down between semesters for maintenance and preparation for the next semester. During these periods, all studies are no longer visible and accounts are disabled. When preparation for the new semester is complete, accounts are activated.

PIs/Researchers must request that existing studies already in the system be made visible for the current semester. To make an existing study visible, PIs/Researchers must ensure the most current versions of the following materials are on file withthe subject pool adminstrator ()

  • The most current IRB approval in effect
  • The most current consent form for the study
  • The most current study debriefing
  • The most current study title being used in the subject pool

If there are no changes to an existing study and your IRB approval is still current, simply email your request to the subject pool adminstrator () confirming this to be the case.

PIs/Researchers are responsible for managing studies. This includes creating the studies, setting up time slots for participant sign up, and recording participant credits and no-shows within 48 hours of participation.

Any number of researchers may be associated with a study, and all researchers associated with the study will have the same privileges for editing study information, managing timeslots, and recording credits/no-shows.

Researchers or PIs may add time slots for an ongoing approved study at any point as long as subject hours remain in the PIs subject pool allotment. To add time slots your study must be “active.” You can make it active yourself. Approval and administrator action is needed to make it “visible.” If there are time slots already set up when the study is made visible, they will appear almost immediately. If you are adding time slots to a study that is already visible, they will appear almost immediately after you finish creating and verifying them.

Study information may be edited at any time (for example, to add researchers) but if the study name, abstract, eligibility requirements, or description fields are changed, the study will need to be re-approved by the administrator before it is visible to participants.

Recording Credits and No-Shows: There are no paper credit receipts in the new subject pool system. Participants can view their account to find out their credit status for particular studies. Credit must be updated within 48 hours of the experimental session (and the administrator will automatically receive email notification when this is not done – so big brother is watching!). No-shows will be penalized as before – that is, failing to attend a scheduled session will increase the required hours

As in the past, the “48-hour rule” includes Web-based studies! Indeed, it is especially important for web-based studies, as many students are asking how they can know that their responses have really been received and recorded. Please update credit status on a regular basis, so that the subject pool administrators aren’t swamped with emails asking “when will my credit appear?”

Other Features of the Subject Pool

  1. All subject pool participants complete the two questions shown below when signing up for the subject pool. This is referred to as the “pretest.” This information may be used to set pretest restrictions for your study. These restrictions limit the visibility of time slots for your study to those participants who meet the restrictions.

    Please note the following rules for using pretest information:

    Rule 1: All studies, unless they have been specifically approved for participation by minors and include a means for obtaining parental consent, should be restricted to participants who selected the first choice for question 1 (status): “I am 18 or older and have no objection to research participation.”

    Rule 2: Question 2 (Gender) may be used to restrict visibility only if the use of such restrictions is included in the IRB approval of your study.

    Rule 3: You may not under any circumstances use pretest responses as a basis for contacting participants directly; they are to be used only to restrict the visibility of time slots to participants eligible to be included in your study as approved by the IRB.

    The current pretest is as follows:

    Welcome to the Psychology Department Subject Pool System. In order to set up your account correctly, we need to ask three brief questions. The answers to these questions will be used only for the system to identify those studies in which you are eligible to be included.

    1. Please indicate your status

      I am 18 or older and have no objection to research participation
      I am 18 or older and conscientiously object to research participation
      I am not yet 18

    2. Please indicate your gender


Psychology Department Group Test (“mass screening”)
Information for PIs and researchers – updated August 2014

Each fall and spring semester, the Psychology Department conducts a mass screening, in which PSYCH 100 students complete a number of instruments used by individual investigators to screen for participants who meet particular criteria.  The IRB protocol for this Group Test is based on a library of instruments approved for inclusion in the screening.  This approval is separate from the approval that each PI must have to use the data for screening. 

The mass screening is completely electronic, presenting using Qualtrics. The subject pool coordinator serves as PI for the screening, and requests submissions of new instruments with a deadline approximately 4-5 weeks in advance of the start of the semester.  Requests to use previously-approved instruments are generally due about 2 weeks before the start of the semester.  All new instruments
must be submitted in electronic format (preferably a .doc or .txt file). Please be aware that space is limited and we cannot guarantee availability until all requests are in for a given semester.

To participate in the mass screening, the investigator must also submit documentation of IRB approval for the study or studies that use their submitted materials as a screen to recruit selected participants. The mass screening is not available for stand-alone data collection such as scale validation.

You may submit materials for the mass screening if the instruments have been previously approved by the IRB and your use of them for screening is pending IRB approval. However, you will not receive your screening data until IRB approval has been forwarded to the Subject Pool Coordinator.
Students who participate in the mass screening provide consent to be contacted by investigators for recruiting purposes based on their survey responses.

Students may consent to two kinds of recruiting based on screening data:

  1. Recruiting for studies included in the subject pool, for which compensation is research participation credits.
  2. Recruiting for studies outside the subject pool. 

Recruiting for studies outside the subject pool must follow a number of rules.  The recruiting script for phone or email recruiting must be reviewed and approved by the IRB, and provided to the subject pool coordinator.  That script must clearly inform students that the study is not part of the subject pool, and that participation may not be used to fulfill the research participation requirement for PSYCH 100 classes.  Studies may not mix research participation credit and other compensation, and students may not under any circumstances be offered a choice between payment and research participation credit.  Screening data may be used for recruiting participants for no longer than one calendar year after the date of the screening.  Because the consent to be recruited for paid studies is separate, the data for the two kinds of recruiting will be provided in separate files.  It is critically important that the differences in consent be respected, and that students not be contacted for a type of study for which they did not provide consent.

About 3 weeks after the semester starts, investigators using the mass screening who have submitted appropriate IRB approvals will receive an Excel file containing their raw data and contact information for participants. These files will be posted to PI-specific folders on the Liberal Arts server (“S: drive”).  It is the PI/Researcher’s responsibility to score their data.

Unlike the “pretest,” which includes only gender and status (under 18, objects to research participation, or  over 18 and does not object to research participation). mass screening results cannot be used to limit visibility of studies or time slots. Participants recruited on the basis of mass screening results will be directly contacted by researchers.

To give students credit for participation in direct-recruited studies, researchers must create studies on line and have them approved, as described in the materials above. The Sona “invitation” feature may not be used.  Posting a study with visible time slots has problems (students sign up when not invited), as does using the invitation feature (other students can see it and often contact us about their eligibility). We often receive complaints from students who can see studies, but are told they cannot participate.  So here is the procedure to use:

  1. Post your study as usual, but set a course restriction so that only students in the course “screening invitation” can participate.  Students can’t select this course, so in fact no participant logging into the subject pool can see the study.
  2. Submit your study for approval as usual.
  3. Post your time slots as usual. 
  4. When you have recruited a participant by phone or email, click “modify” on the time slot, and use the option at the bottom for manual signup.  Once you have manually signed up the participant, they will receive an email as usual.

When requesting approval, make sure to let us know that the study is a direct-recruit study.

Please note there is no mass screening during the summer sessions due to the limited enrollment in introductory psychology courses.

PARTICIPANTS will receive automatic email:

  • with their login information when they create their accounts
  • with confirmation when they sign up for a study or cancel an appointment
  • as a reminder the day before their session is scheduled
  • with confirmation when they receive credit for a study
  • when a researcher cancels an appointment (MUST be done 24 hours in advance)

PIs and RESEARCHERS will receive automatic email:

  • with their login information when their account is created
  • as a reminder of their appointments for the next day (researchers may turn off this feature)

In addition, special announcements may occasionally be sent to groups (e.g., all instructors, all researchers) by the Subject Pool administrator.

System documentation for PI/Researcher accounts (pdf file)

This documentation is from the developers of our subject pool software, and describes how to use the features of the pool accessible to those with PI and Researcher accounts.

IRB proposal and consent form language fall 2007 (pdf file)