Protect participants

Getting started

Watch the informational video below for a simple explanation of some important guidelines for conducting ethical research with human subjects.

In our lab, we use consent forms to inform participants about our research. First, we tell them a little about the the study. Then, we inform them of their rights as participants, which include:

  • Right to voluntary participation: We let them know that participation is voluntary. If a participant wants to stop participating, we should stop right away, even if we are right in the middle of the experiment.

  • Right to freedom from coercion: We make sure they don't feel pressured or coerced into participating in a study. This means we can NOT:

    • offer too large an incentive (e.g., $1000 for a 5-minute study)

    • goad people into participating (e.g., "Come on, it'll be super fun, I promise!")

    • ask people we have authority over (e.g. students)

    • offer an incentive that is contingent on completing the study

  • Right to understand risks & benefits: Our studies are "no more than minimal risk", meaning the risks associated with participating are very small. Still, we must try to minimize these risks and to explain them to our participants.

  • Right to confidentiality: Participants have the right to have any data collected about them remain confidential. We inform them of how we'll use their data and how we plan to keep it safe.

  • Right to be fully informed: In our research, we can't inform participants of exactly our research questions before they participate, because doing so might bias them or influence how they perform the study. Instead, we explain the exact nature of the research after the study.

Child participants

We also work with children, who are considered a vulnerable population. We take additional precautions to make sure we are protecting our child participants.

Before interacting directly with any minors, you must have a completed background check on file!

  • Email the lab manager if you think you will interact with child participants and need a background check!

  • You do not need a background check to use Lookit, since you are not interacting with minors in person.

As a starting point, watch this video made for children who participated in a clinical research study. I selected this video because it is a beautiful example of how researchers should talk to children about participating in research. In fact, this video was created based on input from children, who described how they would like to be informed about research.

Protecting children in our lab

Children have exactly the same rights as adult subjects. However, because they are a vulnerable population, special considerations must be made to obtain informed consent, ensure participation is voluntary, and that the child's right to freedom from coercion is not violated.

Informed consent

  • Parent or guardian consent: Before we invite a child to participate in a study, we need permission from their parent. Our parent informed consent provides parents with the same participant rights as adult subjects, including a clear description of what their child's rights are as a participant.

  • Child assent: Next we need to make sure that the child knows they are being asked to be in our research study, what will happen in the study, and that participating is voluntary. Our assent script can help you explain the research to kids.

Right to voluntary participation: We must make it clear that they don't have to be in the study, and they don't have to keep being in the study if they want to stop.

Right to freedom from coercion: Just like our adult participants, kids shouldn't feel at all pressured or coerced to be in a study. Importantly, things that are coercive to a child may be different than things that are coercive to an adult. Things that might make a child might feel coerced include:

  • Being told they have to participate by a parent or carer, teacher, or researcher

  • Being told a parent , teacher, or researcher will be hurt or upset if the child doesn't participate.

  • Being told that they are bad or naughty if they do not participate or continue participating.

  • Being offered a reward that is contingent on completing the study

  • Being offered an additional incentive to continue after they've expressed the desire to withdraw (e.g., "If you finish this part, I'll give you an extra prize at the end")

  • Being told things that imply the researcher will think less of the child if they do not participate or continue participating (e.g., "all the other children were able to make it to the end")

Fully informed: Kids also have the right to be fully informed about the research study they have participated in. To ensure this, we (1) give them the same debriefing as adults (which means we ensure the debriefing is simple enough for a child to understand), and (2) make sure the child and their parents know who to ask if they have questions about the research study (you or me).

Data privacy

An important aspect of protecting our participants is keeping any identifiable information we collect about them safe. In our lab, we use the 5 safes approach. Watch the following video for a brief overview of the 5 safes approach to confidential data.

5 safes in our lab

  • Safe data: data that is accessible in a publication's Github repository has been completely anonymized to protect our participants' privacy.

  • Safe projects: all of our research projects, including our plans for collecting data and keeping it safe, must be approved by Penn's IRB.

  • Safe people: to work on a project in our lab, you must belong to a trusted institution, pass the University required CITI training, and pass our lab's internal training (this!).

  • Safe settings: our data are stored in a PostgreSQL database that is encrypted both in transit and at rest. Confidential audio and video recordings are stored in a secure S3 bucket. Approved researchers can access these data through a custom website with a secure lab login via two-factor authentication.

  • Safe outputs: when exporting data from our database for analysis, our database website automatically removes personally identifiable information, such that the data is completely anonymous and safe to share.

Audio and video data

Some of the most confidential data we hold are participant audio and video data. You will only view these data from our secure database after entering your credentials. However, be aware that you must be very careful with these data. Please take care that you:

  • Never take a selfie or screenshot that includes participant video, audio, or other personally identifiable information.

  • Never download the audio or video files onto your own computer

  • Never share your login credentials with anyone, even another research assistant. If you lose your login credentials, ask the lab manager for a new one.

Last updated