How to Conduct Behavioral Research over the Internet: A Beginner's Guide to HTML and CGI/Perl

Internet resource for the book by R. Chris Fraley, published by Guilford Press

Chapter overviews and demonstrations
Learn more about the topics covered by the book and see live demonstrations of the exercises

Download the HTML, CGI/Perl, and image files used in the book

Read answers to frequently asked questions about conducting research online

Discussion forum
Share ideas, scripts, and questions with others on the online forum. [temporarily down]

Order the book
Order a copy of the book via the Guilford Press

Resources and links
Links to programs that may be of interest to online researchers




Overview of the Book

During the last few years, an increasing number of behavioral scientists have expressed an interest in using the World Wide Web as a tool for conducting psychological research. It is easy to understand the appeal of using "the Web" for research purposes. Just about any study that can be conducted via traditional pencil-and-paper methods can be implemented on-line, but without the hassles of explicit transcription or data entry, the scheduling of participants, and paper costs. Moreover, behavioral scientists who use computers in their experiments for manipulating visual or narrative stimuli, randomizing trials, or creating customized assessments can easily implement their studies on-line. Finally, although researchers can use the Web simply as an efficient way to collect data from undergraduates in their departmental subject pools, the Web allows us to open our laboratory doors to participants from across the world.

Unfortunately, there are very few resources available to the behavioral scientist who wishes to create on-line research studies. Some books provide excellent reviews of the many tools that can be used for Internet research, but do not serve as a useful guides for how to program on-line studies. Other books provide wonderful introductions to CGI programming--a technique that is necessary for most kinds of on-line research--but are not written with the research scientist in mind.

My objective in writing this book was to create a basic, step-by-step guide for behavioral scientists who are interested in using the Internet to conduct empirical research. This book has been written to be a one-stop shop, if you will, for moving from square one to the point at which the reader can create dynamic and interactive studies online. With the help of this book, any researcher with access to nothing more than a desktop computer and an Internet connection should be able to conduct on-line research within two weeks or less.

The book begins by showing the reader how to obtain access to a web server and design rudimentary web pages in HTML. Once the reader has mastered these basic skills, the book introduces CGI programming in Perl. CGI programs are designed to run on a web server, and, unlike standard HTML web pages, these programs can be used to create a dynamic, interactive web experience for the user. By using CGI programs, researchers can (a) randomize the presentation order of stimuli, (b) randomly assign subjects to conditions, (c) automatically save response data to a file for data analysis, (d) provide subjects with customized feedback based on their responses, (e) exploit both text and image-based stimuli, (f) measure reaction times, and (e) employ complex branching operations within a project. Chapters 5 through 14 of the book teach the reader how to accomplish these things through the use of detailed examples. Each chapter presents one or two examples on how to implement a "generic" research technique (i.e., random assignment), explains the code in depth, and describes how the code can be tailored to different applications. The final chapter of the book reviews some of the advantages and disadvantages of web research.

The intended audience for this book is anyone who currently conducts research in the behavioral sciences. Although many of the techniques and applications I discuss focus on psychological applications, non-psychologists should have no trouble understanding how these tools can be used to serve their purposes.

R. Chris Fraley |