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Definition of Ethics in Psychology

Psychological / April 21, 2019

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If you are unable to find the guidance you are looking for below, please click here to contact the Ethical Enquiries Team directly.

I am planning some research involving volunteer participants. How do I go about obtaining consent and what form should this take?

Researchers should ensure that every person from whom data is gathered for the purposes of research consents freely to the process on the basis of adequate information. They should be able, during the data gathering phase, to freely withdraw or modify their consent and to ask for the destruction of all or part of the data that they have contributed.

The way in which consent is sought from people to participate in or otherwise contribute data for research should be appropriate to the research topic and design, and to the ultimate outputs and uses of the analyses. It should recognise in particular the wide variety of data types, collection methods, and the range of people's possible responses and sensitivities. The principle of proportionality should apply, such that the procedures for consent are proportional to the nature of participation and the risks involved.

For example, for data from existing datasets where consent was properly gained in the initial collection and this consent covers the uses of data proposed, no further consent will normally be needed. For anonymised-at-source, non-sensitive data, consent may appropriately be minimal or may be considered to have been given by the act of participation. Nevertheless, the risks involved in some anonymised-at-source research, for example, web-based research on sensitive topics such as sexual behaviours, will require carefully prepared prior information and clear consent processes.

When research involves the collection of identity capturing data on sensitive material, using video or audio recording, or other methodologies where an individual may be identifiable, it is important to consider additional informed consent procedures. These procedures need to be related to both the nature of the data collected and the ultimate use of the data. Separate informed consent agreements for data collection and the dissemination of the study's results may be required.

A prior assessment of potential risks should inform the preparation of the information to be given to potential participants and the procedures for seeking consent. The assessment should be used to determine the appropriate form of consent and the nature of any risk management required. When in exceptional circumstances harm, unusual discomfort, or other negative consequences for the individual's future life might occur, the investigator must inform the participants clearly of these additional risks prior to consent. For all research where risks are present, secure liability insurance should be in place to adequately cover the levels of possible harm identified in the risk analysis.

Giving potential participants sufficient information about the research in an understandable form requires careful drafting of the information sheet. It is recommended that at least one pilot test of the draft documents be carried out with a naive person having a literacy level at the lower end of the range expected in the planned research sample.