Ethics in Research : Informed Consent

By Jen Linsalata

Prior to the 1970’s few guidelines and standards existed to protect human subjects in research studies. Research on human subjects is paramount in the advancement of science, medicine, and psychology, however one may only need to look to the experiments conducted on unwilling subjects during the Nazi regime in which concentration camp prisoners were subjected to heinous experiments for the advancement of science. Similarly, the Tuskegee syphilis experiments resulted in the spread and death of hundreds of poor African-Americans due to the disease being unwittingly injected into a non consenting population (Williams, et. al., ND). 

Since then, the APA has emphasized ethical standards surrounding informed consent in research. Institutional Review Boards assess proposed research studies provide another layer of scrutiny to ensure the safety of human subjects (APA, 2019). The diversity of backgrounds serving on IRBs provides insight into differing professional domains that may not have otherwise been addressed during the research planning phase (Drogin, 2019). 

All research conducted must first garner support form an IRB and should be conducted in an area familiar to the researcher. This reduces potential risk of harm that may arise to human subjects (Drogin, 2019). Informed consent in research must be provided. Psychologists must disclose the purpose, expected duration, and the procedures that will be used during a research study. Human subjects must be made aware of their right to decline participation at any point during the study and any foreseeable consequences that may arise as a result of declining (APA, 2019).  

Informed consent documents must outline the nature of the experiment or treatment, services available to the control group, and the method in which control groups are selected. Documents must inform participants of alternative treatments available if the participant wishes to withdraw from the study (APA. 2019). Consent documents otn present the participant with a multitude of information at one time. Study suggest that participants do not retain much of the information presented in the consent documents. Some cases suggest that participants are unaware that they have signed consent documents for study participation and were unaware of their options to withdraw (Festinger, et. al., 2009).

It is not uncommon for research projects to offer incentives for human subject participation. Festinger, et. al., (2009) suggests that monetary incentives increase research participation, reduce participant drop out, and increase retention of informed consent information. The APA Code of Ethics acknowledges that the use of incentives occurs and warns against offering excessive incentives (APA, 2019). Excessive incentives can be viewed as a form of coercion for participation and corrupt the scientific credibility of the research outcome.  


American Psychological Association (2019). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of  conduct including the 2010 and 2016 amendments. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from

Drogin, E. Y. (2019). Ethical conflicts in psychology (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Festinger, D. S., Marlowe, D. B., Croft, J. R., Dugosh, K. L., Arabia, P. L., & Benasutti, K. M. (2009). Monetary incentives improve recall of research consent information: It pays to remember. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 17(2), 99–104.

Williams, S., Schiller, T., Lepro, C., Hettwer, N., & Greunke, J. (ND). KEY EVENTS IN ETHICAL RESEARCH. Capella University, retrieved from


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