A quick knock on the door. The Professor does not turn from her computer, shouting “Come in!” over her shoulder as she saves the file that she has been working on. A student opens the door, stepping cautiously into the office. The Professor spins around in her chair to greet the student.
“Hello. Liam, is it?” the Professor inquires. Liam nods. The Professor smiles warmly and extends a hand. “I’m Winnie,” she says as they shake hands. “Come in, take a seat.” Liam removes the backpack from his shoulder and rests it at his feet, sitting into a chair opposite her desk. Winnie sits forward and rests her hands under her chin.
“Now, you have a thesis idea for your social psychology project that you want to discuss, is that so?”
Again, Liam nods. “Yes professor,” he mumbles.
“Please, call me Winnie,” she says with a smile. “Don’t worry about the office, we’re here for a chat.”
“Well,” Liam begins, trying desperately to seem more relaxed than he feels, “I’d like to look at the topic of identity invention. The main data source will be a general survey.”
Winnie sits up straight, removing the hands from under her chin. “Oooh…” she reacts with a pained expression. “For a survey to be in any way useful for this, you’ll need a large sample group for statistical purposes.”
Liam blushes, looking down from Winnie’s direct gaze as he tries to gather his thoughts. “Actually, I’ve considered that, Prof – I mean – Winnie… I… I’m proposing to use a web-based survey.”
“Again, that might not return many more responses,” Winnie responds. “It’s easier to ignore a survey link – to be honest, I’ve had trouble with that approach myself.”
Liam edges forward slightly in his seat. “Well, that’s why I wanted to speak with you. I wondered if it would be possible to not present the survey as a psychology survey.”
“Oh,” Winnie reacts, raising an eyebrow. “What did you have in mind?”
“I… I plan to present the survey as a “Which Pokémon are you?” quiz online.”
It appears to Liam as though an eternity passes as Winnie considers this proposal. Her hands rest under her chin again as her eyes dart back and forth, indirectly showing that her mind is whirring with thought. Winnie makes to open her mouth to speak, hesitating slightly, before finally offering a faint “Go on…”
Liam raises his hands from his lap, gesturing loosely as he speaks. “It’s fairly simple really. All the metrics match up with a standard survey for identity invention, but the surface is adapted to fit a Pokémon-themed survey.”
“So, you’re saying that…” Winnie ponders aloud, “as people voluntarily take this online quiz, the results will have the dual quality of providing your survey data?”
Liam nods affirmatively. “That’s the plan, anyway,” he says. “I just wanted to check if it’s ethical.” Liam reaches down to his feet and produces a thin folder from his backpack. He stretches toward the desk, passing the folder to Winnie who immediately flicks through the pages contained within it. Liam continues, “I’ve included a full disclosure prior to the survey but in most pre-tests, people tend to click yes without reading the terms.”
“That’s fascinating” Winnie responds, rather distractedly. “I’ll run this by the ethics committee, but I think you’ll be in the clear. It’s very thorough.”
Liam smiles, mostly to himself as Winnie continues to scan through the folder. Some time passes as Liam waits in his chair, wringing his hands as he worries slightly that Winnie will find some flaw that he has overlooked. Eventually, she places the folder on the desk in front of her, taking a moment to gather her thoughts. She looks directly at Liam.
“I don’t want to heap praise and thus pressure, but your project may entirely change how we pursue data in the field of Psychology.” Winnie leans forward, emphasising the point. “Honestly Liam… This is potentially ground-breaking.”
And now you know. Every web quiz that seems innocent on the surface is actually helping a psychology student somewhere complete their thesis. Every time you answer a Simpsons quiz, or which Premier League footballer are you, or how many of these 90s pop songs can you name – sure, you get a little score to display, but a psych student can get a degree.