Photo: Emily Christie

The New Adventures of Old Emily: Test Subject

Emily Christie picks up some spare cash from the Psychology Department.

I’m the kind of person who stops on crowded streets to awkwardly bend over and pick up pennies. In fact, I even have a special pocket in my jacket for these wayward coins that has saved me from many panic-inducing, two-pence-short-for-the-bus moments. So, when I learned I could earn some money for taking part in Psychology studies, I knew I had to try it out. I actually studied Psychology as a higher at school and considered taking it at uni until I realised there was more involved than just calling Freud a dodgy old geezer.

I wasn’t just in it for the money; the idea of helping someone out with their chosen study, and maybe even learning something about how I think, drew me in. Maybe I’d even figure out why my lip twitches and why I get a sense of dread when I see pictures of Sean Penn. I signed up on SONA for three experiments in one day – maybe a little bit overkill, but the thought of earning £15 in two hours lured my thrifty self in.

Photo: Emily Christie

I was prepared to be a little bored and a little stressed, but the students running the studies couldn’t have been lovelier or more welcoming. Entering a tiny room with nothing but a chair, a desk and a very 1980s-looking computer, I put my bag and coat down and was left alone with a form. Instantly my overthinking kicked in: Maybe this was all a trick, maybe this was the real study and the way I sat in the chair or where I put my bag would show I was a sexual deviant or extremely unstable. I eventually settled for putting my bag under the desk and facing the wall directly opposite the table with a slightly jaunty leg cross, just so if anyone was watching they would see I was a laid back and cool gal. I skimmed the brief, was asked some questions, and signed away on the rights to use my anonymous data for three years.

Then, the first experiment began.

Photo: Emily Christie

I was given a personality test, with a 1-5 rating and questions like “Are you the life of the party?” which was an obvious 5 (My nights playing Mario Kart in my pyjamas, visited by a selection of food delivery drivers, are legendary.) I found myself zooming through the questions, giving a series of only 1s and 5s, then I slowed down, worrying if this would damage the data. But surely if these are my real answers, then it would be fine? I began to worry that I’d fabricated my personality so much that I was giving false answers. Maybe I do worry a lot? Do I really like loud music?  Maybe I’m not a dog person? Having a minor existential crisis and realising I was gnawing on the pen I’d borrowed from the girl running the study, I realised how weird I am.

The next study involved listening to words repeatedly through headphones, which put me in the strangest zen mode, to the point where I had to check I wasn’t drooling on the keyboard. The final study was based around trying to solve social problems. My answers for every problem seemed to be 1) Tell them off, or 2) Hug it out. As I answered, I realised I’d been thinking a lot about the way my mind works.

Taking part in these studies showed me things I usually wouldn’t notice. The debrief forms, which explained each study I’d taken part in, made me feel actively involved in the research, instead of like a slightly dysfunctional lab rat.

I left the experiments, claimed my cash from the School of Psychology Office, and instantly signed up for more studies. For anyone who’s looking for a few extra pounds to spend on Pablos and pizza, or who’s interested at all in the way the mind works, I would definitely recommend taking part in one of these studies. I also managed to steal a lot of pens, so I guess I discovered I’m slightly deviant.

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