Carnegie Mellon University

Posting a Study to the CBDR Participation Pool

CBDR maintains a participation pool for both CMU students and the general public to participate in social and behavioral research studies. This page contains instructions on how to request access and approval for studies on the CBDR pool.

Any behavioral researcher affiliated with Carnegie Mellon University may post a study to the portal. CBDR utilizes Sona Systems for the administration of this resource.

To obtain a Sona researcher account, email with the following information:

  • Your first and last name
  • CMU affiliated email address
  • Departmental/Center and School affiliation (e.g., Social and Decision Sciences, Dietrich)
  • Research role (e.g., graduate student, faculty, research assistant)
  • Attache PDF files of the completion pages of your CITI ethics training completed within the past 3 years. Please view the Information for Researchers page for more information.
    • Social & Behavioral Research - Basic/Refresher (required)
    • Social and Behavioral Responsible Conduct of Research (required)
Note: Everyone who accesses the CBDR Sona research system must do so using their own researcher account. You may not share login information. This ensures compliance with CMU IRB policy and CMU computing guidelines. 

If you need additional research accounts for other members of your research team or for research assistants, please either have each individual follow the above steps or you may email their information (including their CITI training completion pages) on a single email.

Please note: To post a study to Sona, one "Primary Investigator Account" listing and at least one "Researcher Account" are required. If you are listing yourself as the Primary Investigator (PI), include in your email to that you will need to be set up as a PI as well. If someone else will be listed as PI, they must send all the information above and request a PI account. Creation of a PI account only adds names to the list of selectable PIs when setting up a study; these accounts are not used to manage studies. PIs who also want access to manage studies on which they are listed should also request a researcher account.

All studies in the CBDR participation pool require a researcher and PI listed (these may be the same individual, where applicable). The PI listed in Sona must correspond to the CMU PI on the IRB approval. Therefore, PIs should only be CMU faculty, graduate students, post-docs, or full-time researchers. 

To request a PI account, please follow the same process as for requesting a researcher account. If you have a researcher account, a principal investigator account can be made without resending the above information.

For studies posted on the CBDR participation pool, participants must always be compensated for their time.

Acceptable Compensation Amounts

CBDR requires that compensation fits generally within the following guidelines:

Studies for monetary compensation:

  • At minimum, studies must compinsate $10 per 1 hour of study participation, in increments of $2.50 and 15 minutes, rounding up (e.g., a 30-minutes study should compensate $5; a 55-minute study should compensate $10). Studies may compensaste participants up to $15 per 1 hour of research. 
  • For very short online studies (generally 5-minute online surveys), studies may compensate with a raffle ticket/chance to win a larger sum.
  • For pre-study surveys/qualification surveys shorter than 10 minutes, compensation may be delayed until the completion of the main study. All studies longer than 10 minutes must be compensated. 

Studies for in-class credit:

  • 1.0 credit per 1 hour of study participation, in increments of 0.25 credits and 15 minutes, rounding up (e.g., a 30-minute study should compensate 0.5 credits; a 55-minute study should compensate 1.0 credit).
  • For-credit studies, including short online surveys, must compensate with a minimum of 0.25 credits.

Certain study types that involve greater participant involvement or specific demographics (e.g., fMRI studies; 21+ alcohol studies) may compensate at higher rates. Studies may not attempt to out-compete other studies by compensating higher than standard normal rates. 

Indicating Compensation Type and Amount

Compensation should be clearly indicated in three places in your Sona study listing:

  1.  The study title should be designated with "($)" or "(CREDIT)" indicating the type of study (e.g., "($) Negotiation Study").
  2. In the compensation (Payment/Credit) field for the study with the specific amount of credits or money. If compensating an online study with money, please also indicate how you will be compensating (e.g., $10 via Venmo or PayPal; Chance to win $50 gift card).
  3. In the study description with the specific details of how participants will be compensated.
    1. Include when participants should expect comepnsation (e.g., at the completion of the study session; at the end of data collection)
    2. Include what form compensation will take (i.e., cash, gift card, online payment)
    3. Conditional compensation (such as performance payments): unless a study is fewer than 10 minutes in lengh and specifically indicates that participants will be compensated solely with a raffle ticket/chance to win, participants should always be compensated for their time. While a participant may recieve additional compensation as part of study design (e.g., additional $0.50 for each correct answer), "losses" for performance should never reduce the total compensation amount to less than the guidelines detailed above. 

Researchers should always document providng compensation to participants, including asking in-lab participants to sign a receipt indicating they have received a specific amount of compensation. This record-keeping may be required for reimbursement/finance office guidelines and is important for de-escalation of compensation concerns. 


If a participant does not show up to a study, the participant does not need to be compensated if they do not/cannot participate. If a participant shows up more than 5 minutes late, you may decline to allow the participant to take part in your study. In this case, the participant should be allowed to leave immediately.

If a study cannot be run for any reason and participants were unable to be reached beforehand and show up to the study, they must be compensated. They may be compensated a designated "show up" amount. (Generally, this should be around 20% of compensation.) These participants should also be offered the chance to participate in a future run of the study.

If a participant takes part in any way in a study conducted in person, they must be compensated in full.

If a participant chooses to leave at any time during a study, they must be compensated for the full length of a study. Per CMU IRB guidelines, participants are free to leave at any time. If a participant leaves mid-study, please email with details about the situation.

Escalating Concerns

Any participant or researcher concerns about compensation should be emailed to Please include relevant supporting material (e.g., study protocol listing compensation amount and procedure). 

Once you have set up a study listing in Sona, you must submit the study listing for approval by the CBDR lab manager for the listing to become visible to participants. Before a study is approved, participants will not be able to view or sign up for your study, and the study listing will not be advertised in materials distributed to participants. In addition, studies must be set to Active and have open timeslots posted to be visible to participants and included in outreach materials. All studies posted through Sona must recruit participants for scheduled times or online studies; it cannot be used only as an advertisement board.

A digest of studies is emailed to participants weekly on Saturday mornings, including the names, abstracts, and eligibility requirements of all studies that are currently visible to participants. To have your study included in the digest, please be sure that it is active, approved, and has open timeslots no later than 10:00 am on Saturday morning. No advertisements may be emailed to participants in addition to the Weekly Digest.

For researchers who have used the CBDR participant pool before, a brief overview of the study approval process is: set study to “Active” status, then email with the study name and attached PDF copies of the CMU IRB protocol/approval of submission form and the consent form for the study. For researchers posting to CBDR’s participant pool for the first time, the full process (with tips) is detailed below.

Please note that information will be saved to Sona for a minimum of three years. Studies that have not posted timeslots in the past three years may be deleted. Additionally, participants who have deleted accounts (including study participation history) may create new accounts after three years. Individual researchers are responsible for maintaining any records required by the IRB or Finance.

If all steps below are completed, studies are generally approved within 24 weekday hours. Please email any questions to

To submit a study for approval, please complete all of the following steps:

  1.  Double-check all key parts of your study listing, including (but not limited to):
    1. Study Name: is it clear and accessible, does it specify the compensation type, and does it advertise the study well?
    2. Abstract: does it briefly describe the study? Note: the abstract is included in the weekly digest email advertisements.
    3. Study Description: does it describe all important things a participant needs to know to participate? Please be as detailed as possible in this section because it is important that participants know what to expect before showing up for your study. For example, removing clothing or headgear, being recorded on audio/video, or being exposed to potential skin irritants are all things that may make a participant uncomfortable, which is why it is important for this information to be available in advance. Basic HTML tags can be used in this section to modify the appearance of the text.
    4. Eligibility Requirements: is it clear who is eligible for your study? You may also use the "View/Modify Restrictions" function to change which participants are able to view your study based on questions included in the prescreen. 
    5. Duration: is the study length accurate and does it encompass ALL time a participant will be required to participate/be present for the study?
    6. Compensation (Payment/Credit): is it clear, accurate, and within the Compensation Guidelines?
    7. IRB Approval Code: the IRB approval code is required for study approval.
  2. Switch the study to "Active" status, if not already. (Study Menu > Change Study Information > Basic Information: Active Study?, select Yes and Save Changes)
  3. Send an email directly to requesting approval or a request directly through the Sona approval system including:
    1. The study name as the subject heading or the first line of the approval request (e.g., "($) Negotiation Study").
    2. An attached PDF of the current CMU IRB-approval document (i.e., the document with either "Certification of Approval" or "Approval of Submission" for exempt review at the top), which must include the names of any study researchers and the principal investigator included in your study listing on Sona. The full protocol is not necessary. 
    3. A PDF or word document copy of the consent form (or verbal script) that participants will sign or agree to. A screenshot of the online consent form is also acceptable.

A notice of study approval will be sent to you via email once the request is reviewed and approved or if there are necessary updates. 

Each semester, CBDR coordinates a for-credit participant pool, the Research Participation Program. Through this program, CMU students in participating classes participate in CBDR studies in exchange for credit in their courses. Details about which studies are most appropriate for the for-credit pool, how to set up a for-credit study, and how to register your course for the Research Participation Program are below.

Can I offer my study for credit?

One goal of the Research Participation Program is to give students an understanding of the research process that informs many of the topics that they discuss in their classes. Therefore, only studies from Tepper, Heinz, and Social and Decision Sciences may be offered for credit. Additionally, it is important that studies include a debrief of some kind to inform students about the study topic and how it fits into the field of research.

If you are unsure if you may post your study for credit, please email

When is the for-credit participant pool open? 

The for-credit pool opens each semester. Researchers generally start posting for-credit studies during the third week of the semester. Studies must be closed two days before the last day of classes (before finals), and all students must be given credit or marked as a no-show by the end of that day.

How much credit should I give my participants?

Each hour of study participation should be compensated with one credit, in 0.25-credit increments. So, for example, a 30-minute study should be compensated 0.5 credits, and a 10-minute study should be compensated 0.25 credits. All for-credit studies must compensate a minimum of 0.25 credits, including very short online studies. You should not pay participants on top of the credit compensation unless cash bonuses for select participants are necessary for your study design.

How many participants will I get using the for-credit pool?

The number of students that sign up for a study depends on a variety of factors and the number of students in the for-credit pool varies between semesters. Online studies and studies without prescreen restrictions tend to get more participants than in-person studies and studies with prescreen restrictions. Studies that are posted for multiple semesters will often see a decrease in the number of participants, because there is often overlap in the students who are enrolled in participating classes semester to semester. The best way to get as many participants as possible is to post your study early on and to leave it up throughout the semester.

Generally, pilot studies that only need a small number of participants are most likely to reach their participation goals.

In Fall 2016, 10 courses participated in RPP and 393 students participated in at least one for-credit study. Studies that were posted for at least half of the semester got an (unscientific) average of 150 participants each.

How do I set up a for-credit study?

The process of setting up a for-credit study is nearly identical to the process of setting up a for-pay study. In Sona, after you click on Add a New Study, find the type of study you want to create and select the bubble for Credit underneath the correct type. Then, when filling out the Basic Study Information, include (CREDIT) before the study title, and in the box next to Credits, specify the number of credits that participants will receive for participating in your study. Fill out the rest of the study information as you otherwise would. 

You can also create a study for which participants choose if they want to be compensated with pay or with credit. One way to do this is to set up two separate studies: one for pay and one for credit. Just make sure that in the section Disqualifiers, you select the other study so that participants may not sign up for both the for-pay and for-credit version. The other option is to make a single study listing for credit or for pay. To do this, set up the study as you would a for-credit study (due to system limitations, you cannot grant credit for Paid studies). In the Basic Study Information, include ($ or CREDIT) before the study title, in the box next to Credits specify the number of credits, and explain in the study description how participants can choose to be compensated with either credit or pay. Then, after each timeslot has passed, log back in to Sona to assign credits. For for-credit participants, select Participated and verify that the number of credits is accurate. For for-pay participants, select Participated, change the number of credits to 0, and in the comments specify how the participant was compensated.

IRB and for-credit studies

When using the for-credit pool IRB protocols must include the required information about students participants and credit compensation. Sometimes, non-students participants will sign up for for-credit studies knowing that they will not be compensated with money. In your IRB protocol, please make sure that you also list that non-CMU students may participate and receive no compensation to cover this group of participants. If you prefer that only CMU students participate in your for-credit study, you can limit the visibility of your study by adding prescreen restrictions. (When looking at your study page, find the box called Restrictions and click on View/Modify Restrictions). Questions about this that are specific to your study should be directed to the IRB (

I am an instructor interested in having my course participate in the Research Participation Program, how do I do this?

Only courses from CBDR-affiliated departments may offer study participation for credit, and only courses from the Social and Decision Sciences department may require study participation as a mandatory component of the course. Course registration occurs a couple of weeks before classes begin each semester so that everything can be prepared for your students to participate. A link to register courses is sent out to everyone on the CBDR email list. Please email the lab manager at for more information about registering your course for RPP.