February 11, 2019

No Harm in Checking: Using Factual Manipulation Checks to Assess Attentiveness in Experiments

American Journal of Political Science, October 2018

Center for Global Affairs Clinical Assistant Professor John Kane and coauthor Jason Barabas examine the purpose, prevalence, and implementation of “manipulation checks” in experimental research designs. Manipulation checks aim to assist researchers inidentifying subjects’ attentiveness and determining whether “treatments” are received as intended, yet there is little empirical guidance as to how they should be implemented. As such, Kane and Barabas replicate a series of published experiments, involving thousands of respondents, varying the form and placement of manipulation checks within the study itself. The authors then statistically assess the effects of this variation on the studies’ results, and on the ability to accurately identify attentiveness. These findings, therefore, equip researchers with practical, evidence-based guidance on how to use factual manipulation checks in their studies in order to better diagnose findings and advance theory.