Get Paid to Be a Test Subject: 5 Ways to Earn Money as a Human Guinea Pig

Image: Guinea pig
Katherine McAdoo under Creative Commons

What do your brains, your body, and your child’s toy box have in common? They can all score you extra cash!

From medical tests to market research, being a test subject offers an opportunity for people young and old to fatten up their wallets with cash, checks and gift cards. If you’re willing to try a new product or experience and share your thoughts with its creators, you could give your bank account a boost in time for the holidays.

Here are a few of our favorite ways to make money as a test subject:

1. Sign Up for Medical Tests and Trials

If you don’t mind being poked and prodded, this may be a great gig for you. Be prepared to fill out lots of paperwork on your medical history, and in many cases, show proof to support what you’ve listed. This may include providing copies of your charts or having a physical or other tests done to determine if you qualify. Since criteria vary from test to test, your participation in one research study doesn’t guarantee you a slot in another study — in fact, it may even disqualify you!

But don’t get discouraged if your symptoms don’t match the clinical trials being held in your area. “You could still qualify for the study as a control (healthy) subject,” points out experienced research participant Halina Zakowicz, who lists seven great resources for finding local clinical trials. The Program for Healthy Volunteers through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) boasts nearly 3,500 healthy volunteer participants each year!

How much money can you make? Compensation has decreased considerably in the past few years, according to Linda B., a nurse with experience on both sides of medical trials. “Research has not been exempt from recent cuts in healthcare, and those cutbacks,” Linda says, “mean less money for researchers and, in turn, less money for research participants.” However, she states that participants can make anywhere from $25 for trying out next year’s flu vaccine to over $5,000 for tests that involve overnight stays and additional follow up visits.

2. Participate in Psychological Research Studies

Looking for something less invasive? Consider participating in a psychological research study, where you can make $10 to $60 per hour paid out in checks or gift cards.

It’s not as scary as you might think. Many studies look for insights into human thought and behavior — memory, decision making, learning and perception. But there are many others that study the overlap between psychology and market research. Yale’s eLab, for example, explores a “wide range of academic studies on topics in individual decision making, including consumer goals and behavior, influences of marketing, interactions with culture and politics, health and public policies, and even moral and ethical issues.”

It’s no surprise that the best place to find opportunities like this is at a large university. Harvard, NYU, and the University of Maryland all boast outstanding research programs in the field of psychology. Don’t live near one of these schools? No worries. Some universities, like Stanford, Yale, and Vanderbilt allow online participation, and many use the same Sona system to register volunteers for their study pool.

Make sure to read the fine print before signing up. While many research studies pay via bank check, PayPal or gift cards, some simply enter you in a draw where you could potentially win money. Also, many universities offer class credit for participation, so you must select your “payment” carefully if you are looking to earn cash.

3. Share Your Thoughts Through Market Research

You know what they say about opinions, don’t you? Well, since “everybody’s got one,” why not start getting paid for yours?

Since companies run off the basic principles of supply and demand, they want to hear from people like you to see what the market is demanding, so they can supply it.

How does it work? Participants in focus groups earn anywhere from $50 to $300+ for giving their honest feedback, often in the form of a survey or group discussion.

Participation in these focus groups is based largely on your demographics. When you sign up for a research group’s database, you’ll answer a number of questions to determine which studies you qualify for.

Ready to try a focus group? Some companies to contact include 20|20 Panel; Focuscope, Inc.; MindSwarms (online participation), Mediabarn Research, and Shugoll Research.

4. Get Your Kids Involved as Toy Testers

If you’re toying around with the idea of market research, why not get your kids in on the action?

If you live near El Segundo, California, the Mattel Imagination Center is a great option for kids (typically ages 5-9) to test out toys in exchange for a toy and/or a gift card. Hasbro also has a toy-testing program listed on their FAQ page, or you can see if their Fun Lab in Pawtucket, Rhode Island is recruiting.

The best way to get your family involved in one of these opportunities is by following the toy company’s social media feeds. As you might imagine, people don’t “play around” when it comes to toy testing; the competition can be tough. Often, the companies hold contests and select new testers from the pool of entrants.

And don’t let your kids have all the fun. Some companies, like KidsII, want to hear from parents as well. However, there is not a direct payout; instead you are entered for a chance to win products and other items, such as gift cards.

5. Get Paid for Jury Duty as Part of a Mock Trial

Another way your opinion can earn you some extra money is by being a surrogate juror. If you meet the requirements for regular jury duty, attorneys in your county or federal district may pay you to review a case and give feedback.

Check out opportunities to participate in mock trials in person through companies such as Sign Up Direct, as well as online through sites like Online Verdict.

And the best news? According to Steve Gillman, who made $150 by spending a day participating in a mock trial, they tend to pay you (and feed you) better than actual jury duty. How much better? Depending on how complicated the case is, you can expect to make $20 to $60 per hour.

Your Turn: Have you earned money as a test subject? What kind of testing did you do?

Leah Thayer has worked in both the medical field as well as the community college setting. A Nashville-based writer, she enjoys reading and finding interesting ways to make and save money.