Side Hustle: How To Make Money By Being A Guinea Pig

My mission is to destroy debt and build up assets to facilitate financial semi-independence. While this is a newly-defined goal, I’ve always looked for ways to earn extra money. One of my favorite side hustles is participating in research studies. It can be tricky to find and qualify for these experiments, but you can make easy money in exchange for a few hours of being a guinea pig.

guinea pig

I’ve participated in two research studies, one paid very well and the other one involved eating cookies. That’s right; I was paid to eat cookies! The easiest way to find legitimate opportunities is to check the bulletin boards on a college campus. I found out about of my both studies via these flyers. There are some postings online, but I suggest sticking to ones on an official website (as opposed to Craigslist). You have to qualify for the study before performing your guinea pig function and collecting a paycheck. In both of my experiences, the qualification process with phone interviews. The researchers look for specific criteria in their subjects and seem to be searching for “average” individuals. It actually took two attempts for me to qualify for the first study. During the initial phone interview, I reported suffering from several headaches over the previous month. Apparently, it was too many headaches. The interviewer asked me to call back the following month. When I did as she asked, my headache count had decreased to one, and I was qualified for the study.

The first study was pretty intense, but also paid very well. The actual testing process usually starts by completing releases and a number of questionnaires. Then, it’s time for the fun part. As a participant, you’re not really supposed to know the hypotheses being tested. I can only guess that they were researching something related to TMJ (a jaw condition) and/or perception of pain. The testing included an examination of my mouth and I was asked to bite down on a contraption. The testers applied a hot device to my arm and asked me to rate the level of pain. It sounds horrible, but it was very quick, completely tolerable, and there were no lasting marks. In exchange for a couple hours of my time, I received a check for $300. The really awesome thing about this study is that, years later, I continue to receive follow-up questionnaires with $5 gift cards. Also, they just notified me that I may qualify for another testing session which pays $300.

The second study only paid $80, but it was pretty awesome. They told us a little more about the research for that one; it was focused on rewarding behavior with food. We were allowed to pick between chocolate chip cookies or Doritos as our reward. We completed a number of puzzles and memory quizzes on a computer. Correctly completed tasks were rewarded with our snack of choice. There were two of these lab sessions. In between the first and second one, we were sent home with bags of cookies and supposed to have a snack every so often and document it on a timesheet. I suspect that they were researching whether the reward had the same effect on performance after we had been regularly enjoying the snack.

The main drawback to this side hustle is that it usually takes place during regular business hours. Scheduling testing sessions can be tricky for someone with a 9-5 job. The other possible downside is participating in studies of experimental medications or medical treatments. While I bet that they pay really well, I’m not sure how to place a monetary value on the possibility of suffering from side effects. The positives include making money and being provided with cookies, but I also found the experience really interesting. We hear so much about the results of research, but how often do we think about the process involved in obtaining the numbers? If you can find and qualify for these studies, it’s a great way to earn a little bit of money on the side.


  1. Your guinea pig experiments sound a lot better than mine! I did exactly one, in college, at my university’s optometry school. It was a study on corneal density caused by wearing contacts, and they needed people who’d never worn contacts as guinea pigs. I’ll spare you all the details, but for something like $180 I had to get woken up a whole bunch of times overnight to have different measurements taken, and then get a pretty horrible eyewash to rinse all the dye off my eyes that were part of the scan. It’s funny now, but it was NOT funny at the time. 🙂 That experience pretty much convinced me to earn money elsewhere! But if you can find fun experiments like that cookie one, then great!
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    1. That does sound pretty horrible. I doubt that there will ever be another study as awesome as that cookie one. It’s harder these days with a regular job, but I’d like to find more opportunities to make some quick cash for paying down our credit cards.

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