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Participation in psych studies should be mandatory, for the greater good

As you read this paper, your federal government has the ability to force you into life-threatening military situations if the time is right.

Your state government wields the power to make you sit in a courthouse for up to two weeks.

And accomplished researchers struggle to find people willing to sit down for an hour and take a memory test.

Why can’t the government ask us to participate in psychological studies, too?

Researchers in the social sciences always draw experimental conclusions under the assumption that the subjects they worked with accurately represent a much larger group.

However, they cannot create a truly representative sample because their pool of participants is often limited to those who are willing to show up for the study.

Mandatory study participation would allow psychological researchers to randomly select subjects from the entire population of elderly men, delinquent teens, or depressed single mothers living in the United States.

Researchers would never again need to account for the fact that the study participants might be different than the general population. Participants could join a study simply because they were interested in getting treatment for their disorder or had time to participate in a study. Or it could be that they valued research efforts, or were drawn in by a certain incentive.

Compulsory participation would also make psychological research much less expensive. Many studies offer cash rewards for participation, a practice that would no longer be necessary if subjects were selected and expected to show up, rather than painstakingly won over.

Less funding per research endeavor would allow the government and other organizations to sponsor more research, resulting in a more rapid exploration of human behavior.

On a scale of importance, the potential discoveries of social science inquiry have much greater value than the opinions of temporary jury members and almost as much importance as the need for soldiers on the front line.

With a better understanding of the factors that cause criminal behavior and the patterns that such behavior often follows, we might be able to prevent a homicide before we need to drag people in to listen to the defendant plead insanity.

And perhaps with a deeper knowledge of human interaction, we could more effectively avoid the wars we would need to draft people for.

A decrease in crime and international struggles would benefit not only the subjects of the studies that led to the improvement, but all Americans.

Mandatory participation could even benefit subjects who are mentally ill more directly by offering them treatment that they might not have sought on their own, or would not have been able to afford.

Although the American Psychological Association considers compelled study participation unethical, isn’t it also unethical to hold back research that could benefit millions of people, including the subjects?

Obviously, there would be limits to the types and duration of the studies that citizens would be compelled to take part in.

It would be a gross invasion of privacy, for example, to force subjects into a long-term case study in which researchers interviewed them once every year for the rest of their lives. It would also be clearly wrong to coerce subjects into any type of physically invasive experiment, although such studies are rarely performed on humans in the modern day.

Truly random sampling is a natural step in the development of psychology as an empirical science. In modern times, potential sample biases in other fields would be considered the earmark of a poorly designed experiment.

Imagine what would happen if biological or pharmaceutical researchers constantly used tainted samples of necessary elements. Would we stand for such uncertainty when corrective technology was readily available?

Of course not. We want to know that our medication will work every time, not just when we happen to get a pretty clean piece of the key compound in our batch. We want to be assured that the sample compound that was tested is exactly like the entire population of that compound. The Food and Drug Administration demands such consistency.

And yet, we tolerate ambiguous, potentially incorrect study results regularly in psychological research.

Wouldn’t it be nice to say for sure that a therapy will be effective on about 90% of all people with a drug addiction, not just 90% of the drug addicts who want to get treated enough that they are willing to sign up for a study?

Such treatments are just as important as medicine for many individuals, and it seems only fair that we demand such studies be as reliable as we can make them.

Participating in a study might mean losing a few Saturdays for you, but the results could change someone’s life. I think the sacrifice is worth it.

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