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There are a couple of conventional ways to earn extra cash at Penn - serving food, working at a College House front desk, maybe getting a paid summer internship if you're lucky.

But some students turn to the slightly unconventional to earn extra spending money for that dinner in Center City or night out on the town. They participate in research studies conducted by Penn professors or graduate students.

Most of these studies - which range from the tasty (eating ice cream) to the business-oriented (negotiation simulations) to the possibly disturbing (reacting to photos of burn victims) - are conducted by the Psychology department or Wharton Behavioral Labs.

Participants usually earn around $10, and, for those who participate frequently, the money can cover "the extraneous expenses" like dinner downtown, said Wharton junior Arun Das.

Das estimates he's participated in about 25 to 30 Wharton Behavioral Lab studies since his freshman year.

College junior Elise Miller - who said she's earned over $1,000 in the past two years through studies - participates to earn extra cash and because she can schedule studies around her classes and activities. They usually take 40 minutes to an hour, she said.

"I have a lot of random breaks in the day, so I figure hey, why not make $10?" she said.

Miller has participated in some longer surveys as well, including a sleep study and another that required her to take an MRI.

For the professors conducting research, college students are the ideal subjects.

"They're smart and can figure out what you want them to do," said Marketing professor Wes Hutchinson, the director of the behavioral labs.

He added that costs go up rapidly when surveying a broad cross-section of Americans because typical adults require more hand-holding and explanation than a college student.

"There's a sense in which college students are just kind of perfect for these studies, as long as it's the type of study where most people will react the same," he said, pointing to experimental economics or behavioral studies.

Though "there's some concern" about students becoming more adept at surveys as they take more of them, he said there is no evidence to support that trend especially since most of the studies look at basic human behavior and aren't dependent on education or experience.

There is some concern, however, that social psychological studies that study people's world views or human relations may be too dependant on undergraduates, said Psychology professor Paul Rozin.

And participating in studies also benefits students who may be conducting them one day.

"Intro to Experimental Psychology," is one of a few courses that requires students to participate in studies so they understand what it's like to be a subject, Rozin said.

Mandatory participation in studies helps expand undergraduates' understanding of the field, he said, while also keeping research costs down.

Both Miller and Das originally started participating as part of classes - Miller for a Psych class and Das for OPIM 101 - and now participate in about one study per week.

"It's almost out of habit now," Miller said.

"I always say I'm going to write a book, 'My Life as a Research Subject,'" she joked.

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