The IRB Process
Use of Deception
Most behavioral research involves no physical intervention and no physical risk. However, some studies do present a risk of social harm (e.g., harm to a subject's reputation, which is sometimes a danger if confidentiality is not maintained) or psychological harm, which may occur if the research involves deception or provides subjects with unwelcome and disturbing information about themselves. When deception is involved, the IRB needs to be satisfied that the deception is necessary and that, when appropriate, the subjects will be debriefed. (Debriefing may be inappropriate, for example, when the debriefing itself may present an unreasonable risk of harm without a counterveiling benefit.)
Some studies involve the possibility of a moral wrong, which is what some commentators have labeled the ethical problems posed by deception of subjects or invasions of their privacy. Although some psychologists have overemphasized the value and necessity of using deception, deception or incomplete disclosure may be the only scientifically valid approach for certain research. An example of such research would be a study designed to determine the effect of group pressure (i.e., responses of others) on a subject's estimate of the length of a series of lines. In some groups, pseudo-subjects would be told in advance to give incorrect answers to questions about the length of the lines to determine the effect of such misinformation on the real subjects' responses. Obviously, if the subjects were told all about the research design and its purpose in advance, it would not be possible to do the research.
The IRB shall determine whether any deception or invasion of privacy involved in a research protocol is justified. To assist the IRB in this endeavor, the researcher should complete IRB form 1040 and the Deception Appendix.