Informed Consent and Debriefing

Informing participants in psychological research about what they are agreeing to take part in before they do so, through an informed consent statement; and giving them detailed information about how their information will be used, and the purpose of the study after their participation, in the form of a debriefing are considered a necessary part of ethically performed research. Particularly in an educational setting, where participants are frequently students being used as participants with the intention of teaching them about psychology and research, it is extremely important to follow these norms, and to include the purposes and methods of the study in the debriefing, for educational purposes.


Informed consent

Informed consent requires giving participants information about what is likely to take place during the study, what types of questions they will be asked to respond to and tasks they will be asked to perform. Under normal circumstances, this is usually written using language easily comprehensible by the selected participant population, which the participant reads. Following this the participants are asked to sign and date a document stating that they agree to participate. Informed consent should ALWAYS include a clause stating that participants are free to withdraw from the study at any time. If reward is being given for participation (e.g., payment), at least a partial reward should be given to participants, even if they do not complete the entire study. For example, if a study is comprised of multiple sessions, a participant who only attends one session should be compensated for their attendance at that session.
When working with participants who cannot legally give consent (e.g., children) their legal representative must be asked for consent. In addition for these populations, and for those for whom collecting information that identifies them as having taken part in the study (e.g., illegal immigrants or a study about undesirable or illegal behavior) oral consent should be obtained. Any study requesting oral consent should be reviewed by the ethics committee before being run. In addition, there are some studies (e.g., purely observational studies) where informed consent would be difficult to collect (particularly before the study). In the case where there is only observation of public behavior with no identifying information collected, informed consent is waved (it is considered tacitly given by performing the behaviors in public). However, if any intervention takes place in the situation, or identifying information is collected, participants should be given the opportunity after the fact to refuse the right to use their data in the research. Any study with an intervention or identifying information collected in public settings must be reviewed by the ethics committee ahead of time. When participants are recruited in institutions (e.g., educative, health, companies, etc.) the formal consent of the institution (its legal representative for these issues) must be obtained.



The post-experimental debriefing is your opportunity to explain to participants in more detail why you asked them the questions you did, or had them do the tasks they did. At this point, ideally you will explain your hypotheses as simply as possible, and what you know about the topic that would be of interest to them. If any deception was used in the study, it should be revealed at this point. Also, if any questions or topics that were raised might be distressing to the participant (including any deception), participant distress should be assessed, addressed as much as possible, and if problems appear to linger, further steps should be taken (e.g., referral to a supportive setting). Debriefings can be done in writing, however, it is generally considered better if they are done verbally to the participant directly after the study. If there is reason to fear exposure of the hypothesis to other potential participants, and there is no short term harm to the participant if they do not immediately learn the purpose of the study, participants can be asked to provide the researchers with their email address and be sent the debriefing at a later time. However, participants should not be required to do this, as it is another link of their personal information to the research study.


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