Online Program

Evidence-based ethics: The social psychology of informed consent in victimization research

Monday, November 2, 2015

Gloria Eldridge, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Alaska Anchorage, Anchorage, AK
Claudia Lampman, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of Alaska Anchorage, Anchorage, AK
Stephanie Bauer, Ph.D., Department of Philosophy, University of Alaska Anchorage, Anchorage, AK
Jesse Metzger, PhD, Center for Behavioral Health Research and Services, University of Alaska Anchorage, Anchorage, AK
Staci Corey, MS, Center for Behavioral Health Research and Services, University of Alaska Anchorage, Anchorage, AK
Mark Johnson, Ph.D., Office of Research, Pacific University, Hillsboro, OR
Background: Research on the impact of victimization presents potential for harm to individuals victimized by sexual assault or domestic violence. One area of harm centers on recruitment and informed consent. Research standards dictate that potential participants must be fully informed of the nature and methods of the research before consenting to participate. However, with victimization research, complete information may dissuade potential participants from the research, depriving them of the potential benefits of participation and depriving the public health community of important information about victimization. In addition, social psychological research suggests that individuals who have experienced victimization are more vulnerable to coercion.

Study Objectives: One procedure recommended to improve participation in victimization studies is “graduated consent,” in which details of the study are revealed in increments during participation. However, this procedure is controversial because the participant provides consent without full information about the nature and methods of the research. Social psychological research on escalating commitment suggests that these procedures may enhance the likelihood of coercion. To investigate attitudes toward this procedure, we surveyed a national sample of 1288 researchers and IRB members with experience in mental health and psychiatric research

Method: As part of a larger study, participants were presented with vignettes describing standard or graduated consent procedures and rated their opinions about the procedures. We conducted a proportional odds logistic regression to determine how type of consent influenced appraisal of the risk/benefit balance, potential for enhanced research participation, potential for coercion, and likelihood that an IRB would approve the consent procedure.

Results: Compared to standard consent, graduated consent procedures were rated as more likely to enhance participation in victimization research (OR = 1.77), more likely to be coercive (OR = 4.96) and less likely to be approved by an IRB (0.28). There were no significant differences between researchers and IRB members, although there were differences based on the gender of the researcher or IRB member.

Conclusions: Our findings illustrate the tension between enhanced participation and the potential for coercion in victimization research. We discuss these findings in terms of ethical protections, risk-benefit ratios, and social psychological research on escalating commitment.

Learning Areas:

Ethics, professional and legal requirements
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Describe: (1) differences between standard and graduated consent procedures, (2) potential benefit to graduated consent procedures, and (3) relationship between escalating commitment research and graduated consent procedures.

Keyword(s): Ethics, Vulnerable Populations

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am Principal Investigator on two NIH-funded R01s studying research ethics with vulnerable populations. I have published in this area and have been an IRB member at a research university for 8 years.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.