305. Inherently Influential Recruitment Situations

Updated June 30, 2021

An individual’s decision to participate in a research study must be voluntary, and free from influence (explicit or perceived); however, some recruitment situations may be inherently influential. For example, when invitations to participate in a study are extended from individuals who are in a position of power over prospective participants, the power differential may make it difficult for subordinates to decline the invitation. Incentives for participation in research may influence prospective participants. (Considerations and requirements for the use of incentives are addressed separately.)

Additionally, prospective participants' perceptions or assumptions about the research may influence their decision about participation.

  • Individuals may agree to participate because they are concerned of negative repercussions should they decline.
  • Individuals may agree to participate because they want to please a care provider, instructor, or supervisor.
  • Individuals may agree to participate because they believe the research will benefit them because it was offered by a health care professional or care provider (see therapeutic misconception below).

Therapeutic Misconception

Potential research participants who are also patients may believe that a clinical trial or treatment suggested by a health care provider will provide a therapeutic benefit to them, even after being told that there is no assured benefit. Researchers and IRB reviewers should consider whether or not the recruitment strategy functions to counteract perceptions of therapeutic misconception (see IRB Policy Manual Definitions).

Health care providers who are inviting their own patients to participate in a research study conducted by a colleague must be especially mindful of the potential for therapeutic misconception.

Conflicting Concerns

Prospective research participants may prefer that someone involved in their care contact them about research, but at the same time may find it hard to say "no" to a care provider.

Clinicians may find their clinical judgment conflicts with a desire to enroll patients in their research.

Researchers may consider designing recruitment procedures to protect against conflicting concerns. For example, recruitment may be conducted by someone familiar to prospective participants but who is not directly responsible for their care.

Power Differentials in Relationships between Researchers and Prospective Participants

As noted above, recruitment methods in which the researcher is in a position of power over prospective participants offer the potential for undue influence (see IRB Policy Manual Definitions), whether purposeful or perceived. Efforts to influence decisions about research participation are unacceptable. Additionally, researchers must take precautions to limit the potential for perceived influence.

The most common relationships in which power differentials exist are itemized below although researchers must be cognizant of other circumstances in which power differentials may occur.

Providers Who Wish to Enroll Their Own Patients

Here are suggestions for care providers who wish to recruit their patients:

  • Recruitment (and consent) materials state that treatment is not dependent upon participation.
  • Providers identify treatment alternatives that are available for patients/clients who do not wish to participate in the research.
  • When feasible, someone other than the care provider-researcher recruits and consents patients/clients.
  • When not feasible, the provider is advised to use an IRB-approved script to invite her/his own patients/clients to eliminate the possibility that influential statements or claims are inadvertently made during the recruitment process.

Researchers Who Wish to Enroll Their Own Students

When the sample population includes students, who receive instruction directly from one or more researchers, recruitment strategies must be designed to ensure voluntary participation. Students' decisions about research participation may not affect (favorably or unfavorably) grades, letters of recommendation, or other opportunities or decisions made by teacher/professor-researchers.

Requirements for researchers recruiting their own students for research:

  • The enrollment of minor students must comply with the regulatory requirements for research involving children.
  • Research involving use of student directory information must receive prior approval from the University Registrar.
  • Research involving educational records must comply with Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requirements.
  • For research involving minor students, investigators must determine if Protection on Pupil Rights (PPRA) requirements apply.
  • Recruitment (and consent materials) must state that students' grades will not be affected by their decisions to participate or to decline to participate.
  • When offering extra credit for research participants, students must be given non-research alternatives to earn the same amount of credit. The alternatives must be equivalent in time and effort to the research participation.
  • The study should be designed to limit the professor-researcher's access to information about the enrolled participants until after grades are posted. If this option is exercised, recruitment and consent materials should describe the professor's limited access.
  • Researchers must clarify which activities are for the research (and therefore voluntary) and which are required classroom activities (i.e., activities that would occur without the research).

NOTE: University and Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) students may be recruited for research but may not be required to participate in research without the option of choosing a comparable non-research alternative to fulfill the course requirement.

Employers or Supervisors Who Wish to Enroll Subordinates

When researchers recruit their own employees to participate in research, they may place the employees in a compromised position. Employer-researchers should employ strategies to:

  • minimize potential for influence during recruitment and enrollment, and
  • maximize privacy and confidentiality during enrollment, interventions, and data collection.

Requirements for researchers recruiting their own employees:

  • Recruitment (and consent materials) must specify that employees' job security, performance evaluations, and advancement opportunities will not be affected by participating or declining to participate in the research.
  • Research activities (including consent processes) should be conducted privately when possible.
  • The research should be designed to limit employer-researcher access to the identities of participants. For example, research data may be coded with restrictions on the employer-researcher's access to the master code list. The key code should be destroyed at the earliest opportunity.