In today's issue, I will explain to you how to protect yourself as a researcher or moderator from harassment when running a UX research study. Shout out to the IGDA Games Research and User Experience SIG (especially, Elizabeth Zelle) for providing this inspiration with their weekly question in Discord. Let me know what you think about this issue and reply to this email. Hop onto LinkedIn and Twitter to connect and get your daily dose of game UX, research, and writing knowledge from me there, too.
How to Protect UX Researchers From Harassment: Set rules, use consent forms & moderated platforms, plan for harassment & create safe spaces focused on team comfort to protect UX researchers.
If you're a UX researcher or moderator, you've probably experienced this. Sometimes you get harassed by study participants. It's part of working with people. Not everyone is friendly and has good intentions. To do research professionally, you need to know how to keep participants from bothering you during a study. Harassment comes in many forms, from verbal abuse to physical intimidation, which can hurt the researcher being harassed. UX managers want to make sure, in particular, that both the researcher and the participant feel safe and valued. This can make it easier for participants to be open and honest with the researcher, leading to more accurate and reliable data. Researchers can build trust and rapport with participants by making the environment safe and polite. This can lead to more valuable insights and a better understanding of the research topic. Protecting researchers from harassment can reduce the risk of burnout and stress, which can have long-term benefits for their well-being.
Unfortunately, many UX researchers and managers don't know how to protect themselves against harassment. Here are a few practical strategies to help you do just that.
Establish clear guidelines for participant behaviour. Outline what types of behaviour are acceptable and unacceptable, and ensure that participants know these guidelines before the study begins. For example, it's vital to keep people from using offensive language, making personal attacks, or sharing personal information about themselves or others during the study. This sets the tone for a professional and respectful study environment.
Require Signed Consent Forms
Always use a consent form. This document lays out the details of the study, including the purpose, duration, and potential risks or benefits. It also should include a section on participant behaviour, outlining the expectations and consequences for any behaviour deemed unacceptable. Asking participants to sign this form sets expectations for behaviour and clarifies that unacceptable behaviour won't be tolerated.
Have a Proactive Plan in Place
But what happens if a participant does engage in harassment during a study? The answer is simple: have a plan in place for addressing such incidents. One way to do this would be to give researchers a specific person to talk to if they are being harassed. All team members should know what will happen if harassment occurs. You should consider implementing a process for removing participants from the study if their behaviour is unacceptable. You should have clear definitions of what behaviour is unacceptable. Consider having a backup researcher available who can take over and personnel who can de-escalate the situation and escort participants out of the lab. Being prepared for any situation makes it easier to take quick and decisive action.
Prioritize Team Comfort in a Safe Space
When planning a research study, the safety and comfort of the research team should always come first. Participant comfort should come next. Only then should you worry about the procedural integrity and validity of the data you are collecting. If everyone is upset, your observations or interviews will reflect this and lead to less accurate and reliable data. Establishing a safe and polite environment is essential for this.
Researchers can also try to create an anonymous or pseudonymous environment as much as possible. This is easiest to do using moderated platforms like video calls or phone calls, which give researchers and moderators more control over the environment during the study. Here, you can end the session or put the person on mute if they act in a way that is not acceptable.
Avoiding participant harassment requires always being proactive. Having a framework in place is wonderful, but if the team dynamic and management don't seem welcoming, reporting harassment or toxic behaviour may be difficult. Managers should ask themselves what they can do to make it easier for team members who might be reluctant to report toxic participants.
Games Research Find of the Week
This article looks at what happens to children's good behaviour after they play a violent online multiplayer game in co-player mode versus single-player mode. Collaborative play of a video game, regardless of its content, can promote prosocial behaviour. This suggests that the cooperative and prosocial behaviours that players learn and practice in cooperative play may have an impact on their subsequent social behaviour. Researchers found that playing a cooperative violent game made people more willing to help others than playing a cooperative neutral game. The results suggest that participants were more likely to help each other when they worked with others in a violent environment. This finding could be useful for understanding how people interact in real-world scenarios.
The social setting and psychological experiences of your players can have a bigger effect on their prosocial behaviour than any formal content in the game. It means that even if you design an engaging game, other factors such as feelings of comfort or insecurity could still influence how players act. The satisfaction of psychological needs fully mediated the effect of violent video game play on prosocial behaviour.
Two caveats: most of the people in the sample were boys, which could make it hard to use the results as a whole. Only one neutral and one violent video game were used in the study, so some of the results could be because of how these games were made.
Read the full study: Shoshani, A., & Krauskopf, M. (2021). The Fortnite social paradox: The effects of violent-cooperative multi-player video games on children's basic psychological needs and prosocial behavior. Computers in human behavior, 116, 106641. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2020.106641
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