What motivates participants?

Project details

As someone who recruited participants numerous times for my user studies, I found variations among participants’ response rate based on the stimulus I provided, e.g., interaction medium (email, in-person, etc.), how friendly I was/appeared, and how long the study was.

Data collection

We systematically analyzed previous literature from fields like Psychology and Social Sciences to understand more about these factors. To see how much of these findings carry over to the field of Human-Computer Interaction, we interviewed 21 HCI researchers and practitioners (i.e., from industry). All participants had experience recruiting users for studies; everyone had participated in one or more studies themselves.

We used convenience sampling and snowball sampling methods.



The interviews were transcribed and analyzed in MAXQDA. We used descriptive, attribute, and in-vivo coding techniques to iteratively code the transcripts. We developed a total of 422 codes under seven categories. Here is a code map of one of the main categories, recruitment:


Key findings

Here are some interesting findings we made from interviews with HCI researchers and practitioners:

  • Researchers tend to be over-optimistic about the success rate of participant recruitment.
  • Researchers tend to recruit people they already know instead of strangers. Their user study participants mostly came from their social circle or were from their university.
  • Asking potential participants face-to-face seems to increase response rates.
  • Extrinsic motivation might help participants take the initial step, but intrinsic motivation is best for qualitative studies and to obtain a more accurate measure in some quantitative studies.

For more details, see this thesis.