Gorilla Experiment Builder is a platform designed to help academics, experimental psychologists and behavioural scientists to take their experiments online in a fast and simple way. It works by offering the complicated back-end tools needed for large-scale behavioural science experiments in an easy-to-use-way so that experiments can be created simply.
Collecting high-quality data from thousands of participants in a matter of hours is no problem once your experiment is online (compared to equivalent studies in laboratory conditions, for example). The pace and scale of the data you can collect online is extraordinary; so the pace of the scientific method is accelerated phenomenally. People can now develop simple yet effective experiments, with less effort and a lower budget.
Used by clients worldwide, we now have thousands of participants taking part in online behavioural studies on any given day. To give an example, we were used to test out the Government’s Coronavirus testing last year.
Dr Shane Timmons from the Economic and Social Research Institute took the adverts being used by the Government and ran them online but changed some of the messaging to see if they could make them perform even better. The experiment found that people hadn’t grasped the scale of the virus’s transmission route – and how many people one person could infect. By explaining more clearly how transmissible it was, more people understood.
Other uses for Gorilla have included using its in-built online supermarket to look at how we make choices when buying online to determine how to drive people towards making healthier selections for both themselves and the environment.
The tool has very diverse applications. For example, a lecturer in art in China even used it to present huge banks for images to art history students enabling them to learn and spot which artworks were created by which artist.
How did you come up with the idea for the company?
Behavioural science is the next big frontier for education, behavioural health, and social policy – understanding how we think, feel and behave (on our own and in groups) is going to be crucial to the next big leaps we need to make as a society. For example, climate change and COVID have behavioural solutions. How can we develop and test and optimise these initially and then at scale?
However, when I was studying Psychology at UCL, I experienced first hand the struggle experimental psychologists face. They were having to learn to program in a variety of esoteric languages (on top of learning the science and statistics) and then testing participants 1 by 1 in their university lab. So it was painfully hard and massively time-consuming. I realised that without powerful and easy-to-use tools to create experiments, and easy and fast access to human participants, behavioural science cannot hope to answer questions about human behaviour with enough confidence to act.
In contrast, qualitative researchers are well served by online questionnaire tools. I set out to give behavioural researchers equivalently easy to use tools to set them free to do great science! It’s really all about liberating experimental psychologists (and behavioural scientists) to focus on the science, not the programming.
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How has the company evolved during the pandemic?
Gorilla Experiment has seen a surge in interest since lockdown closed research labs. They have more than doubled the number of UK university clients they work with, serving 50% of the country’s universities (up from just 20% in March 2020). They now count UCL, Cambridge, Oxford,. LSE and Birbeck as clients. We’ve also expanded our clients base across the EU, US and the rest of the world. It’s been exhilarating. Last week Gorilla tested about 4000 human participants every day. That’s extraordinary research output.
We’ve switched to being an all-remote team – like many others it was forced on us at first during the lockdown, but after the dust settled we chose to embrace it and make it our own, and we now have staff members across the country. We ran our own fully online conference last summer, which was a great success and we’re currently planning this year’s one.
We’ve grown a lot – we’re now 12 people, up from 5 at the start of the pandemic, and we’re on the lookout for more. We’re constantly in touch over chat and video, so even though they’re miles away it feels like they’re in the next room. I have had to learn a lot about leading a much larger team and running a much larger company. It’s been a stretch but one that I have enjoyed!
What can we hope to see from Gorilla in the future?
We’re growing fast and have big plans for the behavioural science field, and we’re deploying not only our powerful, easy to use tools to really accelerate the pace of research, but also building up research communities around these new techniques to ensure they stand the test of time.
They have new tools planned for release this summer: Game building tools for Educational Psychologists to test and design Edu tech, a Shop builder tool for consumer psychologists to understand purchasing decisions, and a multiplayer tool for behavioural economists to explore negotiation and persuasion. Alongside these new tools we’re also improving Gorilla Open Materials – our Open Access Repository – to make it easier than ever for researchers to share their work and replicate and extend previous studies. We anticipate that this will remove inefficiencies and help the research community answer research questions at a greater pace.
Internally, we talk about creating a platform of tools so that behavioural scientists across the globe have access to powerful and easy to use tool that are designed for their research. Our internal catchline is “The right tool for everyone. The right tool for you.”