Using Amazon Turk Samples for Online Surveys

Categories: Data Collection, Online Research, Other

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We will define our April focus broadly to include any qualitative or quantitative methods that involve questioning, prompting, or working with participants to collect or generate data. Find the unfolding series here.


Who will complete your web survey?

A popular way to conduct online survey research is through the use of panels put together by commercial services. Individuals often complete surveys to make money or obtain other incentives. Amazon has one of the biggest systems for matching participants and researchers, called Mechanical Turk or M Turk.

Research using MTurk book cover

You can learn more about this way of sampling and survey completion from the authors of Conducting Online Research on Amazon Mechanical Turk and Beyond:

Want to learn more? Use the code MSPACE20, for a 20% discount on their book.


Open-Access Articles about Using M-Turk

Aguinis, H., Villamor, I., & Ramani, R. S. (2021). MTurk Research: Review and Recommendations. Journal of Management, 47(4), 823–837. https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206320969787

Abstract. The use of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) in management research has increased over 2,117% in recent years, from 6 papers in 2012 to 133 in 2019. Among scholars, though, there is a mixture of excitement about the practical and logistical benefits of using MTurk and skepticism about the validity of the data. Given that the practice is rapidly increasing but scholarly opinions diverge, the Journal of Management commissioned this review and consideration of best practices. We hope the recommendations provided here will serve as a catalyst for more robust, reproducible, and trustworthy MTurk-based research in management and related fields.

Anson, I. G. (2018). Taking the time? Explaining effortful participation among low-cost online survey participants. Research & Politics. https://doi.org/10.1177/2053168018785483

Abstract. Recent research has shown that Amazon MTurk workers exhibit substantially more effort and attention than respondents in student samples when participating in survey experiments. In this paper, I examine when and why low-cost online survey participants provide effortful responses to survey experiments in political science. I compare novice and veteran MTurk workers to participants in Qualtrics’s qBus, a comparable online omnibus program. The results show that MTurk platform participation is associated with substantially greater effort across a variety of indicators of effort relative to demographically-matched peers. This effect endures even when compensating for the amount of survey experience accumulated by respondents, suggesting that MTurk workers may be especially motivated due to an understudied self-selection mechanism. Together, the findings suggest that novice and veteran MTurk workers alike are preferable to comparable convenience sample participants when performing complex tasks.

Coppock, A., & McClellan, O. A. (2019). Validating the demographic, political, psychological, and experimental results obtained from a new source of online survey respondents. Research & Politics. https://doi.org/10.1177/2053168018822174

Abstract. Researchers have increasingly turned to online convenience samples as sources of survey responses that are easy and inexpensive to collect. As reliance on these sources has grown, so too have concerns about the use of convenience samples in general and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk in particular. We distinguish between “external validity” and theoretical relevance, with the latter being the more important justification for any data collection strategy. We explore an alternative source of online convenience samples, the Lucid Fulcrum Exchange, and assess its suitability for online survey experimental research. Our point of departure is the 2012 study by Berinsky, Huber, and Lenz that compares Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to US national probability samples in terms of respondent characteristics and treatment effect estimates. We replicate these same analyses using a large sample of survey responses on the Lucid platform. Our results indicate that demographic and experimental findings on Lucid track well with US national benchmarks, with the exception of experimental treatments that aim to dispel the “death panel” rumor regarding the Affordable Care Act. We conclude that subjects recruited from the Lucid platform constitute a sample that is suitable for evaluating many social scientific theories, and can serve as a drop-in replacement for many scholars currently conducting research on Mechanical Turk or other similar platforms.

Hargittai, E., & Shaw, A. (2020). Comparing Internet Experiences and Prosociality in Amazon Mechanical Turk and Population-Based Survey Samples. Socius. https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023119889834

Given the high cost of traditional survey administration (postal mail, phone) and the limits of convenience samples such as university students, online samples offer a much welcomed alternative. Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT) has been especially popular among academics for conducting surveys and experiments. Prior research has shown that AMT samples are not representative of the general population along some dimensions, but evidence suggests that these differences may not undermine the validity of AMT research. The authors revisit this comparison by analyzing responses to identical survey questions administered to both a U.S. national sample and AMT participants at the same time. The authors compare the two samples on sociodemographic factors, online experiences, and prosociality. The authors show that the two samples are different not just demographically but also regarding their online behaviors and standard survey measures of prosocial behaviors and attitudes. The authors discuss the implications of these findings for data collected on AMT.

Stoycheff, E. (2016). Please participate in Part 2: Maximizing response rates in longitudinal MTurk designs. Methodological Innovations. https://doi.org/10.1177/2059799116672879

The ease and affordability of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk make it ripe for longitudinal, or panel, study designs in social science research. But the discipline has not yet investigated how incentives in this “online marketplace for work” may influence unit non-response over time. This study tests classic economic theory against social exchange theory and finds that despite Mechanical Turk’s transactional nature, expectations of reciprocity and social contracts are important determinants of participating in a study’s Part 2. Implications for future research are discussed.

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