Journal of Official Statistics, Vol.19, No.3, 2003. pp. 273285

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Exploring the Meaning of Consent: Participation in Research and Beliefs about Risks and Benefits

This study investigates what risks and benefits respondents perceive in two specific surveys, the National Survey of Family Growth and the Health and Retirement Study, and how these perceptions affect their willingness to participate in research and to sign a consent form. The study was carried out by means of an experiment embedded in the Survey of Consumer Attitudes (SCA), an RDD survey carried out monthly at the University of Michigan. The research shows that respondents are rational: their perceptions of risk, benefit, and the risk-benefit ratio significantly predict their expressed willingness to participate in the survey described to them. The research reported here also indicates that willingness to sign a consent form is an imperfect indicator of willingness to participate in a survey. At least 13 percent of those in the current study who expressed willingness to participate said they would be unwilling to sign a form indicating their consent.

Informed consent; survey participation; risk; benefit.

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