Con­duct­ing online research with blind participants

Eva D. Poort, Max Planck Insti­tute for Psycholinguistics


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To what extent do our sens­es shape our knowl­edge of the mean­ings of words? Stud­ies on pop­u­la­tions with atyp­i­cal sen­so­ry expe­ri­ence (e.g. blind indi­vid­u­als) are key in answer­ing this ques­tion, but it can be dif­fi­cult for such peo­ple to come to the lab. Mov­ing research online offers many ben­e­fits, but also pos­es some chal­lenges. First­ly, when par­tic­i­pants are blind, stim­uli must be pre­sent­ed audi­to­ri­ly, but some researchers dis­cour­age online test­ing with audi­to­ry stim­uli, due to wor­ries about inac­cu­rate reac­tion time mea­sure­ments (Bridges, Pitiot, MacAskill, & Peirce, 2020). To address this, we con­duct­ed two exper­i­ments in which sight­ed par­tic­i­pants per­formed a visu­al and audi­to­ry sim­ple reac­tion time task online, and com­pared this data to a pre­vi­ous lab exper­i­ment (Hintz et al., 2020). 

Between-par­tic­i­pant vari­a­tion in reac­tion times was greater in online exper­i­ments, espe­cial­ly with audi­to­ry stim­uli, but with­in-par­tic­i­pant vari­a­tion was sim­i­lar in both online and lab-based exper­i­ments. For with­in-par­tic­i­pant designs, we con­clude it may be fea­si­ble to detect reac­tion-time effects sim­i­lar to lab-based research. Sec­ond­ly, design­ing online exper­i­ments for peo­ple with atyp­i­cal sen­so­ry expe­ri­ence brings its own set of chal­lenges. We there­fore also dis­cuss tips for mak­ing online exper­i­ments acces­si­ble to blind par­tic­i­pants, such as ensur­ing com­pat­i­bil­i­ty with screen read­ing soft­ware. Full author list: Eva D. Poort, Guiller­mo Mon­tero-Melis, Tani­ta P. Duik­er and Markus Ostarek.

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Con­duct­ing online research with blind participants