Mason students earn money and class credit to help with research


By Sarah Wheeler and Noah Winthrop, Staff Writers

Research shapes our academic world, and Mason’s Departments of Economics and Psychology allow students to get involved by contributing directly to research projects.

Professor Nicholas Hertz, a Ph.D student in the Human Factors & Applied Cognition program here at Mason, offers extra credit to his students for their research participation through the Psychology Department’s SONA experiment management system. He offers this incentive not only to help boost grades, but also because he believes that SONA is an important part of the psychology program here at Mason.

“SONA participation is where the Mason psychology department gets the majority of its research participants from,” Hertz said, “and without SONA the psychology program would not be productive from a research standpoint.”

According to Hertz, it is actually quite common for psychology professors to encourage their students to contribute to research and often those professors will offer incentives such as extra credit for students that participate in SONA research. Not only is this an opportunity for students to potentially boost their grade, but they can also help fellow Mason students with their research projects.

Hertz also notes that SONA is a key part of introducing psychology students to the world of research. “SONA participation allows students to have firsthand experience with how psychological science is conducted; it gives them context for the experiments and finds we discuss in class.”

The psychology program has numerous ongoing experiments, including a poster design competition for 0.5 credits, a simulated driving experiment for two credits and a focus group about experiences at work and school for 1.5 credits, just to name a few.

Psychology experiments through SONA are not typically paid, as extra credit takes the place of financial motivation. Experiments range from 30 minutes to three hours, and students receive 0.5 credits per half hour. For example, if a student signed up for a 90-minute experiment, they would receive 1.5 credits.

The Economics Department also has many opportunities for students. What students may not be aware of, however, is that many of these experiments pay participants.

This can be good news for struggling students looking to earn money on the side and participate in the many projects that take place in the department. Interested students can take part in cutting-edge research projects conducted by faculty and PhD candidates on a number of different topics.

Most of these experiments are held at the Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science (ICES), located in Enterprise Hall on the Fairfax Campus.

ICES conducts surveys for experimental economics and game theory. Its mission is to better understand decision-making and how it impacts the world. This research studies the foundations of economic liberty and freedom valued by the current generation of students.

ICES experiments are completed on computers and measure human behavior. Participant names are not shared with any other organizations, although there are requirements, including that participants must be at least 18, enrolled as Mason students, have their student ID, and respond from their assigned computers.

Student applicants are regularly accepted for on-site experiments conducted in the ICES lab. However, students can only take part after they’ve applied, if they are invited, and after they have confirmed their participation. Prospective applicants must register on the ICES website ( for updates.

Students do not need to be a psychology major to participate with SONA. To be eligible, they only need to be enrolled in a class where the instructor has either required SONA participation or has allowed participation to count for extra credit. Students interested in getting credit for participating in psychology research experiments on campus can go to and create an account tied to their current psychology courses.

Photo by Michael Eberhart