UG ethics: Common issues
When completing the application, be sure to explicitly describe the specific steps you will take to protect participants’ privacy and to avoid causing distress. The clearer you are, the easier it is for the Ethics Committee to approve your application (although each application will of course be assessed based on its specific details). Below are some tips for addressing sensitive issues in UG ethics applications:
If you checked the box next to the statement, “The study requires that participants divulge sensitive information about themselves”…..
- Make sure the data are anonymized such that the undergraduate researchers cannot link participants to their responses. The idea here is to protect all parties by preventing researchers from possessing sensitive information about their peers. Here are some suggestions for anonymization:
- Use participant IDs that cannot be traced back to the participant. IDs should not be in chronological order, nor should they include any identifying elements.
- If possible, use Qualtrics to gather the data. When it comes time to download the data, the researcher’s supervisor can do so, making sure to shuffle the order and remove any time-stamps.
- If paper-based questionnaires are unavoidable, participants can place their completed questionnaire in an envelope and place that envelope in a box with other questionnaires, such that the batch can be shuffled.
- Sometimes studies involve questionnaires of a clinical nature. If you are including such a questionnaire:
- Explain in the application if the questionnaire is actually capable of diagnosing a participant. Most questionnaires used in research are indicators of preclinical traits but are not sufficient for diagnosis. If that is the case for your questionnaire, say so explicitly in the application. If it is not the case and the questionnaire can be used in diagnosis, this raises a more serious ethical issue that the committee will need to discuss.
- Assuming the questionnaire is not diagnostic, make that clear to the participants. Do not use titles on the questionnaires that suggest otherwise (e.g., “The McCall Psychopath Test”). Also, when debriefing participants, explain the situation to participants. For example, you might include the following statement (assuming it holds for your questionnaire), “Today you completed a questionnaire designed to examine individual differences in mental-health related traits. Nevertheless, that questionnaire is not diagnostic and you should not assume that your responses on it reveal a mental health related condition. If do have concerns about your mental health, we encourage you to seek the guidance of mental professionals (for example, the Open Door team).
If you checked the box next to the statement, “Participants will be exposed to conditions that are designed to be emotive or aversive”.
- Provide clear examples of the stimuli in your application, using an attachment or a link. You don’t need to submit the entire stimulus set, but make sure you provide examples of the most extreme of the stimuli. For example, if you are using a standardized database of images (i.e., IAPS), provide an example image whose negativity and arousal scores are as extreme as your stimulus set goes.
- Provide participants with verbal and written trigger warnings.
- Provide participants with the opportunity to “cool down” after the study or expose them to more positive stimuli. It is critical that the participants do not leave the study distressed.
DO NOT INCLUDE YOUR CONTACT DETAILS ON THE FORM INCLUDE YOUR SUPERVISORS.