Round Robin design: a pragmatic approach to dyadic interaction research

Round Robin design: a pragmatic approach to dyadic interaction research

Posted by Steffen van Heijningen on Thu 30 Nov. 2023 - 5 minute read

In the exploration of dyadic interactions within psychology research, the Round Robin design emerges as a practical and essential piece of methodology. Ensuring comprehensive interactions among all participants, this design yields a vital dataset for unlocking, for example, the complexities of interpersonal relationships and perceptions.

What exactly is a Round Robin design?

A Round Robin design is a systematic approach used in research and competitions where each participant or competitor is given the opportunity to interact or compete with every other participant or competitor, one at a time. 

In the context of psychological research, particularly in studies involving dyadic interactions, this design ensures that every possible pair of participants engages in an interaction, thereby providing a comprehensive and balanced view of the interactions within the entire group.

Why is it called a Round Robin?

The term "Round Robin" has a historical nautical origin, where sailors would sign a petition or demand in a circular format to avoid identifying the ringleader. In the context of research design, a Round Robin metaphorically encapsulates the idea of each participant interacting with every other participant in a circular or all-encompassing manner, ensuring that all possible dyadic interactions are explored without prioritizing or highlighting any single participant.

In the realm of competitions, particularly in sports and gaming, a Round Robin tournament is one where each competitor is paired against every other competitor, ensuring that all have an equal opportunity to compete against each other. This format ensures fairness and comprehensiveness in the competition, as every participant faces off against all others, providing a thorough test of their skills and capabilities across the entire competitive field. 

The parallel in research design is clear: just as every competitor competes against every other in a Round Robin tournament, every participant interacts with every other in a Round Robin research design, ensuring a comprehensive and equitable exploration of (in our case) dyadic interactions.

round robin design

What exactly are dyadic interactions?

Dyadic interactions refer to the social exchange between two individuals, encompassing both verbal and non-verbal communication. In the context of psychology research, understanding dyadic interactions involves exploring how each individual perceives, responds to, and influences the other. 

These interactions are fundamental in various social contexts, such as friendships, romantic relationships, parent-child-interactions, and professional interactions, providing valuable information through which researchers can explore and understand the complexities of social behavior, communication, and interpersonal perception.

The pragmatic necessity of a Round Robin design

In studying dyadic interactions, the Round Robin design is not merely a methodological choice but a practical necessity. For researchers wanting to understand pattens of behavior or the relationships between behavioral strategies and social outcomes, collecting data in groups, rather than single dyads is essential. 

Behavior that occurs within the context of a single dyad is more prone to “noise” including the degree to which two interaction partners feel they have something in common or the degree to which each dyad member is feeling ready to engage with the partner. Ensuring that each individual communicates with every other participant allows for the identification of behavior patterns both within and across participants. 

The round robin design is therefore crucial to capturing the full spectrum of interpersonal dynamics, providing a thorough and holistic view of the social dynamics within the group.

Implementing Round Robin design: an example from Dr. Erin Heerey’s research

Dr. Erin Heerey, Associate Professor at the department of Psychology of University of Western Ontario, explored in her work the subjective value of smiles and how they alter social behavior, revealing that the valuation of polite smiles and subsequent social interactions were influenced by changes in social need. 

Implementing a Round Robin design in a similar study could involve each participant interacting with every other participant, exchanging smiles, and then rating their perceptions and experiences of each interaction. This would provide a comprehensive dataset detailing how each individual perceives and is perceived by others in the context of of social cue exchange, and how these perceptions might be influenced by various social states.

Discover more about Dr. Erin Heerey's work in this video.

Leveraging FaceReader in dyadic interaction research

In the context of dyadic interaction research, especially studies similar to Dr. Erin Heerey’s, utilizing a tool like Noldus’ FaceReader can add a crucial layer of depth and objectivity to the findings. FaceReader, with its ability to accurately classify emotions and facial expressions, can be employed to analyze the facial expressions of participants, moment-by-moment, during each interaction in a Round Robin designed dyadic interaction study. 

The ability to examine social behavior in fine-grained detail provides valuable data regarding the emotional responses and non-verbal cues exhibited by participants during interactions, offering additional insights into the interpersonal dynamics and emotional exchanges within the group.

FREE WHITE PAPER: FaceReader methodology

Download the free FaceReader methodology note to learn more about facial expression analysis theory.

  • How FaceReader works
  • More about the calibration
  • Insight in quality of analysis & output

The power of FaceReader: 800 hours of coding in 14 hours

From a feasibility perspective, FaceReader can classify expressions in a fraction of the time human coders require to perform the same work. Imagine a small pilot study in which five groups of five participants each, a mere 25 participants, have a series of two 10-minute discussions in a round robin design. The resulting data would include 800 minutes of video to be coded. 

Human coders would need about 800 hours to produce frame-by-frame expression classifications, whereas FaceReader would require only about 14 hours to produce the same output. Given the volume of data Round Robin social interaction studies generate, FaceReader makes the investigation of Round Robin data possible.

Logistical challenges: ensuring comprehensive interactions

One of the notable challenges in implementing a Round Robin design is ensuring that each participant indeed interacts with every other participant exactly once. As the number of participants increases, the complexity of managing and tracking interactions escalates, making it crucial to meticulously plan, organize, and monitor the interactions to ensure the integrity of the design. Employing a systematic approach and utilizing tools or software that can assist in tracking and managing interactions becomes vital in maintaining the rigor of the study.

A simple example: for a group of N participants, this will require N×(N−1)/2 unique interactions. For example let’s say we have six participants (or teams). This means we should apply the formula: 6 x (6-1) / 2 = 15 unique interactions. Each participant (or team) has 5 interactions in total, each time with a different person (or team). 

Dr Heerey’s lab has developed a Python toolkit to manage this scheduling, including accounting for participants who fail to attend a scheduled session, in a smoothly coordinated manner. In addition, tools like Python and other software can be used to track and obtain ratings of social interactions and partners (e.g., via QR codes scanned with smartphones) in the moment, while they are still fresh in a participant’s mind.

Erin Heerey Dyadic interaction


The Round Robin design, with its inherent structure of ensuring comprehensive interactions and its ability to provide robust data, stands out as a vital tool in psychology research, especially in studying dyadic interactions. By facilitating a thorough exploration and understanding of the complexities of human interactions and interpersonal perceptions, and leveraging essential tools such as FaceReader, it enhances our understanding and knowledge in the field, providing a solid foundation upon which researchers can build models and theories that reflect the complexities of human interactions.

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