By Linnea Langkammer
Researchers often offer payment to research participants to reimburse them for expenses, to compensate them for their time and travel, or to incentivize their participation. New research suggests that offers of payment could actually drive participants to lie to researchers in order to meet enrollment criteria.
In the survey experiment, co-authored by Penn Memory Center Scholar Emily Largent, participants were offered a reimbursement for completion of an online survey. Over several experimental groups, researchers found that between 10.5% to 22.8% of participants falsely reported meeting the flu vaccine eligibility requirement when compared to a control group, which was paid regardless of flu vaccine status.
Participants were randomized to receive an offer of $5, $10, or $20, and although deceptive behavior occurred across all payment groups, the amount of reimbursement did not significantly increase the rate of deception. Subjects seemed to deceive at the same frequency regardless of payment amount.
Inclusion of potential participants who do not actually fit the research parameters, but are enrolled in the study due to deceptive behavior and false reporting could interfere with the study’s integrity and validity. In clinical trials, it could additionally pose a threat to the subject’s safety.
Although this study demonstrates a strong payment-associated deception, the researchers caution against the elimination or reduction of offers of payment for research. Instead, more research is necessary to develop and test alternative means to minimize deception, such as using objective measures of eligibility rather than relying on participant self-reports.
“Offering payment can be an important means of overcoming financial barriers to study participation, treating participants fairly, and increasing recruitment and retention rates,” said Dr. Largent. “So, I still favor offering payment but encourage investigators to be mindful of this practical concern.”