Expanding possibilities in Cognitive and Social Sciences Research
In the past decade, the cognitive and behavioural sciences have experienced a significant shift from conducting in-person lab testing to running traditional lab studies online. This transition has been driven by the challenges associated with participant recruitment, time constraints, and high costs involved in bringing participants to the physical lab. Moving research online has not only increased the speed and scalability of behavioural studies but has also enhanced their robustness and replicability.
The COVID-19 pandemic further accelerated this shift, prompting researchers to explore innovative tools that facilitate online experimentation. One such tool is the Gorilla Experiment Builder, which has played a pivotal role in enabling behavioural research to continue seamlessly even during global lockdowns.
For those unfamiliar with Gorilla, it serves as an all-in-one platform that enables a wide variety of online behavioural experiments, including reaction time tasks, surveys, games, multiplayer tasks, shopping simulations, and more. As one researcher aptly put it, “If you can dream it, Gorilla can test it!” The platform provides researchers with the necessary building blocks to create a wide range of behavioural experiments without requiring any coding skills.
Enabling Multiplayer Experiments
Multiplayer studies have always held a significant position in experimental psychology. The renowned Asch conformity study, often taught to undergraduates, exemplifies the power of social influence and conformity within group settings. Human experiences such as negotiation, cooperation, competition, and theory of mind are deeply rooted in social interactions. However, multiplayer experiments have historically remained a niche research methodology compared to surveys. Why?
This disparity can be attributed to the inherent technical challenges associated with setting up and recruiting for multiplayer experiments, which have limited their widespread adoption across the cognitive and social sciences. Consequently, our understanding of the variance in human behaviour due to social situations has been regrettably constrained.
As our lives become increasingly intertwined with online platforms and video conferencing, an exciting possibility arises: the ability to conduct multiplayer experiments with ease in an online environment. This possibility has become a reality with the recent addition of multiplayer functionality to Gorilla’s Task Builder tool, already widely adopted across various psychology disciplines. The multiplayer feature enables both simultaneous and turn-based actions and supports 2–8 players. Furthermore, Gorilla allows for seamless integration of online multiplayer tasks with individual tasks or surveys, facilitating the remote collection of rich mixed-method data.
Gorilla Multiplayer Demo — learn more about Gorilla Multiplayer here
What makes this development particularly exciting is that many cognitive phenomena have traditionally been studied in isolation, despite their inherent social nature. Take language, for example. The majority of psycholinguistic studies involve a single isolated participant, overlooking the inherently social aspect of language as a means of communication. By studying language in a well-controlled and experimentally manipulated social environment, we can potentially gain deeper insights into its complexities.
What’s changed technically to make online multiplayer studies possible?
Online Multiplayer studies have been made possible by 4 aspects of functionality coming together:
Multiplayer Tool: Gorilla offers a user-friendly interface that allows researchers to create online experiments without the need for coding expertise. The multiplayer functionality has been added to the main task builder, such that all the functionality available in the task builder (reactions times, mouse-tracking, drag and drop, drawing etc) are available in multiplayer too! Researchers can build their task just as if it was a solo, single-player task, and then simply specify which elements on each screen should be visible to each player. They can also configure responses and other data to be saved to synchronised, networked variables, making it easy to capture a response from Player A and then show it to Player B in real time. Gorilla handles all of the complex synchronisation and also supports text and video chat, ensuring participants believe they are in a genuinely interactive experiment. The text chat records are also available as part of the experiment data.
Lobby: To facilitate participation in multiplayer tasks, a lobby system is essential. Think of it as the waiting area where participants join before the task begins. If you’ve ever played Among Us, you understand the importance of a lobby! Gorilla incorporates this lobby functionality seamlessly into its experiment tree, ensuring a smooth transition from the recruitment stage to the start of the multiplayer task. You can even design your protocol to have multiple rounds where participants rejoin a lobby to be partnered up in different (random) pairs.
Prolific Liquidity: Prolific has great participant liquidity on their site. By liquidity we mean more active participants than are required for the number of studies recruiting at any one time. And so it’s easy to get enough participants through to your study to fill a multiplayer lobby.
Rate Limiting: Prolific operates an algorithm in the background to ensure that the most active participants don’t get all of the studies and thus preserve participant naivety. However, you can ask for this feature to be switched off to supercharge your recruitment speed and ensure that no participant is waiting in the multiplayer lobby for very long. Simply contact the Prolific support team and request that they turn off the rate limiter for your study before you publish it.
Together, we think these possibilities allow cognitive and social science researchers to answer questions that were previously impractical or too expensive to answer. Thereby enabling the research community to better understand how groups of people make decisions together.
Many of the challenges facing our society come down to how we can inspire and organise ourselves to act together. Researchers will need to embrace innovative tools and approaches to provide answers.