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Implentation Guidelines for Research that Invites Subjects to Engage in Biased Thinking about Marginalized Groups

Please review our policy on research that invites subjects to engage in biased thinking about marginalized groups for more information.

Federal regulations require researchers to mitigate risks when research materials or methods involve possible cause of harm to human subjects. IRBs are also charged with giving meaningful analysis of potential risks to possible benefits to participants and society at large.

Research that invites participants to engage in biased thinking carry particular risks that must be acknowledged and managed in the protocol.

For example, stimuli that are inherently racist may hurt individuals or cause emotional distress. Further, measures that invite participants to actively engage in racist thinking, for example, asking survey questions that require participants to first accept a racist and false premise in order to gauge their response, may incidentally elicit or affirm those racist beliefs in participants.

The following guidelines may help researchers measuring biased thinking of historically marginalized groups to do so in such a way that reduces risk, or mitigates known risks, in their research design. Please consider the following when applying for IRB approval:

  1. Eliminate any materials that are not critical to answering the stated research question or aim, and/or explore alternative methods that measure the same constructs while minimizing possible harm.
  2. Acknowledge risks associated with use of design or materials that invite participants to engage in biased thinking.
  3. Be prepared to provide a theoretical and methodological justification for the use of the materials or design in question.
  4. When using materials that may incidentally elicit or affirm harmful or false beliefs, provide participants with debriefing materials that:
    1. acknowledge that the study included content that invited participants to engage in biased thinking about marginalized groups;
    2. explain the reason for including these items;
    3. list or describe the questions or materials that did so;
    4. clearly explain any deception or misinformation implicit in these items (e.g., if materials imply that some people seem less evolved because of their race and proceed to ask questions to gauge participants adherence to this belief, the debrief must clarify that humans are no less evolved because of their race);
    5. include a text box for participants to provide comments; and,
    6. require participants to attest to reading, or demonstrate they have read, the debriefing materials prior to receiving compensation for participating in the research.


Campus IRB Guides