First-year stu­dents at UCL Exper­i­men­tal Psy­chol­o­gy demon­strat­ed real-world results from their text­books with Gorilla.

“Gorilla has allowed our stu­dents to follow their sci­en­tif­ic curios­i­ty, and be reward­ed with real data, from the very first stages of their degree.” Prof Daniel C. Richard­son, UCL


The problem: No oppor­tu­ni­ty for stu­dents to do research from the begin­ning of their studies

Under­grad­u­ate courses tend to begin with the history of the dis­ci­pline and estab­lished the­o­ries, and only at the end of their degrees are stu­dents able to make a sci­en­tif­ic con­tri­bu­tion with their own ideas.

Our goal was to bring research into the heart of our stu­dents’ learn­ing from the very begin­ning of their studies. The barrier to this is tech­ni­cal exper­tise and resources, as only in their later years do our stu­dents create their own exper­i­ments, after labo­ri­ous train­ing in spe­cial­ized soft­ware that differs from lab to lab.


The solu­tion: Using Gorilla in lectures

To embed research in our teach­ing from the outset, we used Gorilla in our lec­tures, sem­i­nars and lab modules. Stu­dents par­tic­i­pat­ed in online exper­i­ments them­selves, and analysed their own data. And then they gen­er­at­ed their own hypothe­ses, created exper­i­ments and col­lect­ed their own data.

“Giving is not just about making a dona­tion. It is about making a dif­fer­ence.” Kathy Calvin


What we did: Let them design an experiment

Over the course of the year, stu­dents were taught a wide range of the­o­ries from dif­fer­ent areas of psy­chol­o­gy. Their lec­tures covered topics such as memory process and cog­ni­tive biases in deci­sion-making, types of social influ­ence and means of per­sua­sion, and per­son­al­i­ty and cross-cul­tur­al differences.

We then set them the chal­lenge of design­ing an experiment to see if they could increase char­i­ta­ble giving. They could draw on any of the the­o­ries that they had been taught in the lec­tures. The chal­lenge was to turn those the­o­ries into exper­i­men­tal designs for a real char­i­ta­ble cam­paign, and to gain exper­i­men­tal evi­dence for what worked.

Gorilla Insight:

“I am thrilled by the idea of 1st-year stu­dents cre­ative­ly apply­ing the skills they’ve learned to achieve a real-world change in behav­iour. When these stu­dents reach employ­ment, behav­iour­al science units and con­sul­tan­cies are sud­den­ly going to have a whole new tool kit avail­able to them to advise their clients.”


What we tested: Behav­iour­al inter­ven­tion that impacts char­i­ta­ble giving

The stu­dents ran around 30 dif­fer­ent exper­i­ments, col­lect­ing data from over 1200 people, across more than 20 coun­tries. I was aston­ished by this – that’s more data than my lab by itself would typ­i­cal­ly collect in a year. What was also impres­sive was the variety of ideas and the­o­ries that the stu­dents tested.

Each experiment began with the par­tic­i­pant being told to imagine that they have just won the lottery and received £100 (this was so that we lev­elled out dif­fer­ences in the ability to donate across people). Then there were one of two appeals for a charity, which could be an image, text or even a movie. Then the par­tic­i­pant was asked how much money they would want to donate.

Cru­cial­ly, there was a small dif­fer­ence between the two appeals, and that dif­fer­ence allowed the stu­dents to test a range of hypothe­ses relat­ing to pro-social behaviour.

For example, the two appeals may have the same picture of a face, but in one there was direct eye contact with the camera, and in the other, the face looked to the side. Or one version would mention that other people had already donated money, and in the other, there would be no infor­ma­tion about others’ behaviour.

In another case, the reli­gion of the refugees in the appeal was men­tioned, or not, and stu­dents record­ed the reli­gion of the par­tic­i­pant as well to see if this pre­dict­ed responses.

After the exper­i­men­tal manip­u­la­tion and the measure of char­i­ta­ble giving, the par­tic­i­pants in the experiment were direct­ed to a just-giving page and asked for a dona­tion to a real charity. So in addi­tion to col­lect­ing evi­dence on 30 dif­fer­ent hypothe­ses, our stu­dents raised around £300 for a women’s shelter.


Were there any surprises?

These ideas and methods were fos­tered by us in their labs and sem­i­nars, but all orig­i­nat­ed from the stu­dents them­selves. As a con­crete example, one group wrote an advert for a domes­tic abuse charity, and referred to someone as a ‘sur­vivor’ or a ‘victim’, Even though the dif­fer­ence between the two pitches was that word alone, refer­ring to her as a ‘sur­vivor’ increased dona­tions by over 25%.

Stu­dents made posters of their results to show each other and faculty members. We also picked two of the best and sub­mit­ted them to the British Psy­cho­log­i­cal Society’s social psy­chol­o­gy conference.

To our delight, not only were the stu­dents accept­ed to the con­fer­ence, and got to present their work, but two of them won an award for their poster, even though they were first-year stu­dents com­pet­ing against grad­u­ate stu­dents and estab­lished researchers.


The results

This expe­ri­ence showed us the enor­mous value of hands-on learn­ing. The stu­dents took ideas from the lec­tures and turned them into working exper­i­ments that made a con­tri­bu­tion to our under­stand­ing of pro-social behav­iour, and pro­duced some­thing of real-world value.


Bring research into your stu­dents’ learn­ing from the begin­ning — with Gorilla

As you can see, there are many ways in which stu­dents can use experiment builders like Gorilla to actu­al­ly run exper­i­ments and conduct their own research, thereby taking their studies beyond the purely theoretical.

Whether you’re a teacher or a student inter­est­ed in start­ing your own exper­i­ments now, check out our fea­tures and see how Gorilla can help you build exper­i­ments from Year One:

Jo Ever­shed

Jo is the CEO and co-founder of Caul­dron and Gorilla. Her mission is to provide behav­iour­al sci­en­tists with the tools needed to improve the scale and impact of the evi­dence-based inter­ven­tions that benefit society.