Psychology Research and Passion Project Ideas for High School Students
10 minute read
Do you ever find yourself pondering why certain individuals act the way that they do? Why is it that sudden behaviors are triggered in one person but have no effect on the next? If this sounds like you, it’s time to explore the field of psychology! Whether you’re eager to learn more about mental health, functions of the brain, human behavior and motivations, or child development, this could be the sign you’ve been needing to further inspect the world of psychology.
There are many types of psychology research and fields. Here’s a list of project ideas and areas of focus to help inspire you as you get started doing psychology research.
Experiments allow psychologists to determine causation (i.e., that something caused another thing to happen). These research projects study how one group of participants (those in the “control” condition) compares to another group of participants (those in the “experimental” condition). Importantly, participants are randomly assigned to conditions - they don’t get to choose which one they are in.
Here are some psychology experiments that you can do, along with a few things to consider for each one:
1. Does meditation improve the mental health of people who feel lonely?
Make sure to standardize the way that participants meditate each day (e.g., duration, any apps that they use). What would be a good control condition for this experiment?
The Polygence Pathfinders Program
Pathfinders is a career discovery mentorship experience designed to help you explore different career paths and gain more clarity about your future. Learn from three world class mentors in the fields of your choice and discover your passions!
2. How can psychologists improve mental health?
This is a broad research question - you should narrow it down to a specific area of focus, such as anxiety, depression, and self-esteem. Design an activity for participants to do in order to improve their mental health in this area. Both project #1 and #2 are types of experiments called “interventions”.
Idea by psychology research mentor Tanya
3. Is stress contagious?
This is another broad research question. You can be creative about how you decide to study this idea. Perhaps you will have two “participants” sit side-by-side as they complete a math test. In the experimental condition, one “participant” will actually be a fake participant who’s a member of the research team and acts very nervous while taking the test. In one control condition, both participants will be real. In another control condition, one participant will be “fake,” but they won’t act nervous. How will you measure stress in this experiment? You can use self-report questionnaires, but maybe there is a better way. You should also study how the average score on the test compares between conditions.
4. What’s more effective for studying: digital study tools or traditional textbook review?
Think about which subjects students typically use digital study tools for (e.g., flashcards). Math is probably not the best subject in this case. Doing the experiment on students in a real classroom on a real test would probably be best, but how can you ensure that students stick to their assigned study method? How can you recreate a classroom in a laboratory setting?
Idea by psychology research mentor Noel
5. Does color impact memory?
In this experiment, you could give participants a list of words in different colors and see how well they remember them based on the color.
Idea by psychology research mentor Aya
Exploring the Mind just Light You Up?
Polygence pairs you with an expert mentor in your area of passion. Together, you work to create a high quality research project that is uniquely your own. And on your own schedule. Our psychology mentors both inspire and guide you along the way. We also offer options to explore multiple topics, or to showcase your final product!
Survey-based research involves analyzing word-based information, such as what participants express in interviews and open-ended response questions, or numerical information (e.g.,when participants answer questions on a scale from 1 to 5). Researchers usually conduct survey-based research when it would be unethical or impossible to do an experiment about the topic.
When you are asking survey questions, especially about sensitive topics, there are important aspects to consider. Try your best to make participants feel comfortable answering the questions. You can do this by emphasizing that responses will be confidential. Avoid asking leading questions and questions that can be answered with a simple “yes or no.” Doing survey-based research online allows you to have more participants. However, during an in-person interview, you can ask follow-up questions about anything interesting that the participant says.
Here are ideas of survey-based psychology research projects:
1. Who uses apps and websites that offer virtual counseling?
How do these digital tools compare to in-person counseling? In this survey, you can ask participants who use virtual tools versus in-person therapy why they use their respective mediums. Ideally, it would be great to find someone who has tried both virtual and in-person therapy.
Idea by psychology research mentor Noel
2. How does the relationship between mountain biking on physical and mental health compare to other types of physical exercise?
This project is interesting because you can’t ethically conduct an experiment and tell participants to do a dangerous activity like mountain biking. Thus, a survey is a better approach. Get participants who do a variety of physical activities and ask them why they chose the activity. Be creative with your questions!
3. How do members of your family, community, peers, or a specific population think about mental health counseling?
What do they think of people who utilize therapy? After understanding these perceptions of therapy, you can come up with interventions that can challenge stigma around going to therapy. Reducing stigma can encourage people to go to therapy and thus improve mental health outcomes!
Idea by mentor psychology research mentor Nat
4. Think about your high school and ask yourself the question: “Do/Would students from different backgrounds feel welcomed here?”
In this project, you will interview students and teachers to document how your school can better champion diversity and inclusion efforts. You will use primary and secondary sources to uncover themes and gaps in your school’s equity policies and practices.
Idea by psychology research mentor Lydia
A literature review (sometimes shortened to “lit review”) is a written summary of key work that has been conducted about a psychological topic over several years. It’s a type of secondary research that describes how different studies relate to each other and how the field has developed over time. To write a lit review, the first step is to use an academic journal database (e.g., Google Scholar) to find and skim academic articles.
Keep notes about the key findings from each study and how it built off of previous research. What open questions did the researchers hope to resolve by conducting their study? How were the results the same between similar studies and how were the results different? What methods did different researchers use? How has researchers’ understanding of the field changed in light of new and potentially conflicting evidence?
It can be overwhelming to decide what to include in your literature review because there are tons of psychological articles on a given topic. I like to start with a promising paper in Google Scholar and then look at sources that the paper references. You can also read other literature reviews that other researchers have conducted and note which papers they discuss. In both cases, make sure to go to the original sources and read the actual papers they referenced. Also, use the search filters to ensure that your literature review covers a wide span of years.
Examples of literature review psychology research project ideas you could do:
1. How do only-children compare to children who have siblings?
There are many different questions you could focus on: Are only-children more independent? Are children with siblings better at cooperating with others? How does birth order (e.g., being the oldest or youngest sibling) play a role in development?
Idea by psychology research mentor Tanya
2. How might family socioeconomic circumstances impact child development?
Consider styles, home (in)stability, local school quality, and more to understand the consequences that different environments could have on children.
3. Why do certain exercises in specific environments promote different benefits?
You can consider indoor versus outdoor workouts, as well as whether the participants did the exercise alone or with others.
4. How has our understanding of a particular psychological disorder advanced over the years?
Pick a psychological disorder and write a review paper on recent advances in neuroscience that have improved our understanding of the disorder’s development and treatment.
Idea by psychology research mentor Phil
5. How can existing evidenced-based psychological interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat anxiety, be adapted to be more culturally sensitive?
Cultural sensitivity involves “recognizing and respecting the beliefs, perspectives, and values of clients from a particular race, ethnicity, or region” and also addresses other important factors, such as age, gender, and sexual orientation. For this literature review, it will probably be best to focus on a particular culture since there are so many different cultures that you could choose from.
Idea by psychology research mentor Kaley
Start exploring your favorite aspects of Psychology now!
Register to get paired with one of our expert mentors and to get started on exploring your passion for psychology today!
Another type of project focuses on communicating scientific ideas to a lay audience. This project is similar to a literature review because it involves reading and synthesizing scientific articles. However, literature reviews are generally written for an academic audience. The fun thing about a scientific communication project is that you get to be creative! You want to keep your audience engaged. There are many different ways to communicate science, including:
1. Science blog
You can pick a psychological disorder, and write a blog describing recent advances in neuroscience that have improved our understanding of the disorder’s causes and treatment. Consider the broad impact of the work you review (i.e., why should people care?).
Idea by psychology research mentor Phil
2. Science podcast
Decide on a subfield of psychology that interests you, such as how researchers use psychology to improve learning and teaching. You could then interview people you know about their experiences with the psychological topic. For example, what learning and teaching strategies work best for them?
Idea by psychology research mentor Yinuo
For any type of scientific communication project, you’ll need to identify your target audience and think about the language that you’ll use to communicate your ideas. For example, I (Logan) generally write psychology-related blogs for high school students, and if I was writing for a younger audience I would explain topics using simpler language. Another thing to consider is the format of your project. A podcast is a more natural format if you want to include interviews. You should also think about where you will publish your work. You’ll have to do some research on the best place to publish a blog! It is fairly easy to publish your podcast on Spotify.
I’m also going to add that a YouTube channel and a website are two more fun ways to communicate science! I actually have a YouTube channel about juggling, and I’ve really enjoyed posting videos there for over two years.
Other psychology projects involve analyzing large amounts of data. These projects yield interesting results because they allow you to study something “big” that would be difficult to do by hand. To do this type of project, you’ll need some comfort with Microsoft Excel/Google Sheets and statistical analysis. Potentially, you’ll also need to know computer science. Here are a few ideas:
1. Use publicly available datasets to analyze the availability of mental health services in a U.S. state over time.
How does the availability of services for children compare to that of adults and older adults? What proportion of facilities accept Medicaid/Medicare/public funds (making services accessible to low income populations)?
Example data source: National Mental Health Services Survey
2. Identifying gender and race/ethnicity biases in sentiment analysis.
Sentiment analysis is a popular form of text analysis that uses artificial intelligence to predict the specific emotion that the writer of the text was feeling. However, we know from prior research in linguistics that there are differences between gender and racial subgroups on how language is used. Thus, these popular sentiment analysis tools, which do not differentiate between gender and race, might lead to biased scores that have important future consequences. This project investigates the degree to which popular sentiment analysis models exhibit gender and racial-ethnic biases. You could ask your friends of different races and genders to write a paragraph using happy, sad, angry, and neutral language, and see how accurately the sentiment analysis predicts their emotions.
1. Observational research
People may behave differently when they know that someone is monitoring their behavior, such as in experiments and surveys. Thus, the goal of observational research is to study how people behave when they don’t know that they are in a research study. Observe how children of different age groups play. First, conduct a literature review to better understand the different levels of social and emotional development throughout childhood. Go to any area where children are playing in order to evaluate how children within different age groups are interacting with one another. How do your observations compare to academic research?
Idea by psychology research mentor Ellyn
2. Media analysis
When portrayed in the media, mental illness is typically exaggerated. Because it is shown to be unpredictable and dangerous, many individuals do not have a good understanding of what mental illness even is. Do a deep analysis of how movies and/or TV shows portray mental illness. Consider the best way to disseminate your findings and discuss what the media gets right and wrong about mental illness.
The ideas on this list are just a handful of the many types of psychology research projects that you can do! Here is another list of creative ways you can explore your passions. For even more inspiration, check out the database of projects completed by Polygence students.
Did you know that doing a research project can really give you an edge on your college application?
Read this article about collecting data in psychology to learn more about experimental, survey-based, and observational research.
Before conducting any research project with real participants, make sure to get IRB approval.
After you complete your psychology research or passion project, you may want to write a research paper.
Do Your Own Research Through Polygence
Join Polygence and do your own research project tailored towards your passions and guided by one of our expert mentors!