Ethical Aspects of Research Involving Deception


When deception is used in research projects, it must be justified as a necessary part of the study. Special considerations must also be made when conducting research involving deception in order to protect participant rights.

Deception in research can occur by:

  • Omission: an important aspect of the study is withheld from the participant
  • Commission: the participant is misled about the true purpose of the research


Does the deception improve the internal or external validity of the study?

  • Sometimes subjects will change their behavior or responses to a study if the true nature of the investigation was known prior to participating. This can harm the study’s internal or external validity.

Has this deception design been used in a previous study?

  • If so, noting this on your application and reporting on any harm (or lack thereof) is useful.
  • Were alternative procedures considered and why were these rejected?

Do study risks change based on the use of deception?

  • Address whether the presence of deception increases or does not change the risk of harm to the participant

Is the participant aware of their right to withdraw?

  • Ensure that your subjects are free to withdraw their data from the study once debriefing has occurred


The IRB provides the following templates for preparing a debriefing statement:

Debriefing involves explaining to the subjects the true nature of the study after their participation. The following aspects should be considered:

  • How will subjects be debriefed?
  • Who will debrief them?
  • When will the debriefing occur?
    • Immediately following participation, partial delay, full delay
    • Be sure to justify any delay

Will the debriefing be full (all deceptive aspects of the study revealed) or partial (some deceptive aspects will remain unexplained)?

  • If only partially debriefing will be used, justify this in your application
  • If full debriefing will be used, consider if the subject be harmed in any way by full debriefing
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