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Deception and Coercion


In certain research disciplines (e.g. psychology), to ensure the viability of a piece of research, it is sometimes necessary to withhold information on the true objectives of the research from the people participating in it. In such types of research it is impossible to obtain informed consent from the participants. Wherever possible such research should be avoided and Research Ethics Committees will pay particular attention to research involving deception. Where deception or the misleading of participants is considered necessary, the central principle to consider when deciding the ethical soundness of deception is the reaction of the participant once debriefed. If it is likely that the participant will be angry, or show unease once debriefed the research is likely to be deemed unacceptable.

However, when such research, requiring consent but not informed consent from participants, is judged to be necessary for the results of the research to be valid, researchers must exercise particular caution. In such circumstances the lead researcher has a special responsibility to: (i) Justify that alternative procedures to avoid the withholding of information or deliberate deception are not available and, if available, are not feasible for the research; (ii) Justify why the withholding of information, or an element of concealment or deception, is integral to the viability of the research.


Where a relationship exists between the researcher and participant (e.g. employees, patients, students) careful consideration as to the nature of consent is required. Willingness to volunteer may be unduly influenced by the expectation of benefits or rewards. When research is being conducted with detained persons (e.g. prisoners) particular care must be taken over informed consent, paying particular attention to the special circumstances that may affect the person’s ability to freely and voluntarily give informed consent.

People volunteering to participate in research may be paid for their inconvenience and time. Payments made to individuals must not be so large as to induce the individuals to risk harm beyond that which they would usually undertake. Financial payments might cover reimbursement for travel expenses and / or time. Risks resulting from participation must be acceptable to participants even in the absence of inducement.

The promise of compensation and care for damage, injury or loss of income as a result of participating in research activities to participants should not be considered coercion by inducement.