Paying children for research does not lead to undue influence

Researchers worried about the ethics of paying children to take part in research shouldn’t be, a new ACU study reveals.

Led by ACU, the study found payments can be used to increase children and young people’s participation in research without concerns about undue influence.

Associate Professor Stephanie Taplin from ACU’s Institute of Child Protection Studies led the Managing Ethical Studies on Sensitive Issues (MESSI) online survey published in the Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics.

The survey, which also involved researchers from Southern Cross University and UNSW, used hypothetical scenarios to look at whether higher payment amounts encouraged participation in riskier studies.

Associate Professor Taplin said while it was common practice to provide payments to research participants, the rules around paying children for research are messy.

“This study debunks strongly held views that payment encourages children to participate in research that could be harmful for them,” she said.

“Ethics committees making decisions about approving research are often concerned that higher payments encourage children to participate in research that they may not have otherwise, thereby putting themselves at risk of harm, often termed undue influence.

“Although it is generally agreed that children should have a say about issues that affect them, one of the contentious issues that arises when planning research with children is payment – whether to pay and how much?”

The MESSI team presented children with hypothetical scenarios of varying risk and payment amounts – including a sexting study - to test how they affected the children’s agreement to participate.

It found:

  • Significant numbers of children and young people invited to participate in a study will do so for no payment.
  • Children were able to identify the higher risk studies and were more likely to participate in the lower risk study.

The MESSI study is the first large-scale empirical study to examine the influence of payments on children’s consent to participate in social research studies of different sensitivity levels. It also provides guidance in relation to the payments of children and young people for research.

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