Use of Deception with Human Research Subjects

The American Psychological Association (APA) acknowledges that there are some studies that cannot be conducted without the use of deception (see APA Code of Ethics).   The following guidelines are provided by the APA:

8.07 Deception in Research

(a) Psychologists do not conduct a study involving deception unless they have determined that the use of deceptive techniques is justified by the study's significant prospective scientific, educational, or applied value and that effective nondeceptive alternative procedures are not feasible.

(b) Psychologists do not deceive prospective participants about research that is reasonably expected to cause physical pain or severe emotional distress.

(c) Psychologists explain any deception that is an integral feature of the design and conduct of an experiment to participants as early as is feasible, preferably at the conclusion of their participation, but no later than at the conclusion of the data collection, and permit participants to withdraw their data.

8.08 Debriefing

(a) Psychologists provide a prompt opportunity for participants to obtain appropriate information about the nature, results, and conclusions of the research, and they take reasonable steps to correct any misconceptions that participants may have of which the psychologists are aware.

(b) If scientific or humane values justify delaying or withholding this information, psychologists take reasonable measures to reduce the risk of harm.

(c) When psychologists become aware that research procedures have harmed a participant, they take reasonable steps to minimize the harm.

Given these guidelines, all studies involving deception will receive a full review by the NMU HSRRC.   Research applicants can expect to respond to the following questions:

  1. What does the deception entail?
  2. Why is deception necessary for this study?  That is, describe the importance of this research that justifies the use of deception.  Describe why using a non-deceptive research methodology is not possible.
  3. Provide a script that will be used in the debriefing session.  Explain how and what subjects will be told during the debriefing.
  4. Include in the debriefing script that subjects will be told that they have the option of withdrawing from the study, and that upon request, their data will not be used in the study.