New principles and new paths needed for online research in mental health: Commentary on Burnette et al. (2021)

Int J Eat Disord. 2022 Feb;55(2):278-281. doi: 10.1002/eat.23670. Epub 2022 Jan 10.


Online methods have become a powerful research tool, allowing us to conduct well-powered studies, to explore and replicate effects, and to recruit often rare and diverse samples. However, concerns about the validity and reliability of the data collected from some platforms have reached crescendo. In this issue, Burnette et al. (2021) describe how commonly employed protective measures such as captchas, response consistency requirements, and attention checks may no longer be sufficient to ensure high-quality data in survey-based studies on Amazon's Mechanical Turk. We echo and elaborate on these concerns, but believe that although imperfect, online research will continue to be incredibly important in driving progress in mental health science. Not all platforms or populations are well suited to every research question and so we posit that the future of online research will be much more varied, and in no small part supported by citizen scientists and those with lived experience. Whatever the medium, researchers cannot stand still; we must continuously reflect and adapt to technological advances, demographics, and motivational shifts of our participants. Online research is difficult but worthwhile.

Keywords: Amazon Mechanical Turk; citizen science; data quality; metascience; online research methods.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Comment

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Surveys and Questionnaires