Institutional Review Board

Deception and Debriefing Process

Sometimes, in order to accomplish research objectives, investigators must deliberately mislead subjects during the research by withholding information or even providing false information. As a result, subjects are not fully informed about the research when they consent to participate. For example, you might:

  • stage an emergency, assault, or other situation
  • provide false feedback about a subject's performance
  • hide the true purpose of the research
  • conceal the identity of another researcher

When research involves a deceptive technique like those mentioned above, you are required to "debrief" subjects after their involvement in the research.

Considerations for Including Deception in your Research

  • Is deception essential to the research?
    You should use deception only when no other methodology will accomplish the research objective(s).
  • Will the deception present more than a minimal risk to subjects?
    You may not expose subjects to risks that they have not agreed to incur.
  • Will the deception adversely affect the rights and welfare of subjects?
    You may not use a deceptive technique as part of the research if it compromises subjects or their rights.
  • Will the information withheld or falsely provided influence the willingness of subjects to participate in the research?
    You may not withhold information that -- if known -- might result in subjects refusing to participate: You may not provide false information that might result in subjects agreeing to participate when they may not have otherwise.

Debriefing Information Checklist

To dispel the deception, the following information must be explained to subjects either orally or in writing:

  1. Purpose of the research
  2. Your hypotheses -- what you expect to find
  3. Existence of deception in your study -- what subjects were led to believe contrasted with reality
  4. Reasons for your deception
  5. Whom to contact for answers to questions and how to contact them (typically, you as a researcher; a student must include contact information for an advisor as well)
  6. The subject's right to withdraw data (if the data includes identifying information that enables the researcher to distinguish and eliminate an individual's responses)

Template & Example

The following template & example are provided for your convenience. Feel free to modify the language as necessary to fit your research activity, but be sure to include all the required elements of debriefing as outlined in the checklist above.