Debriefing in Psychology Research: Definition & Process

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  • 0:01 Debriefing
  • 0:28 Process of Debriefing
  • 1:53 Health & Wellness Check
  • 2:45 Follow-Up Care & Information
  • 3:18 Sample Debriefing Script
  • 4:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alyssa Gilston
Debriefing is the procedure that is conducted in psychological research with human subjects after an experiment or study has been concluded. It involves a structured or semi structured interview between the researcher and the subjects whereby all elements of the study are discussed in detail.


Debriefing is a critical part of any experiment or psychological study that involves human participants. This procedure is conducted after the experiment or study has been concluded. Debriefing involves a structured or semi-structured verbal conversation between the researcher and the subjects whereby an array of topics are addressed and discussed, and the subjects are given an opportunity to ask questions. There are multiple components of the debriefing process.

Process of Debriefing

Under the Code of Ethics, once a study has been completed, researchers are required to provide participants with accurate and appropriate information about the nature of the experiment or study. Researchers also share with subjects any and all information related to what the purpose of the research was, as well as what the findings indicate.

During the debriefing process, subjects are informed about what the hypothesis for the experiment was as well. If the subject has any misconceptions about the study, the researcher takes reasonable steps to correct those misconceptions during the debriefing process. For example, if a subject was told that an experiment was being conducted in order to assess the impact of color on concentration, during debriefing, he or she would be advised that the researcher's hypothesis was that when subjects were in rooms with lighter-colored walls, it was predicted that he or she would demonstrate better concentration than if he or she was in a room with darker-colored walls.

Researchers do not need to share all of the details of the study prior to its beginning, as that knowledge could impact the data collection and subsequent results. But after the experiment is completed, researchers do need to inform participants of the true nature of the study as part of debriefing. If the subjects have been deceived during the experiment in any way, the debriefing will inform the subjects of the deception and explain the true objective of the study.

Participant Health and Wellness Check

If any of the subjects were changed or physically or emotionally harmed in any way as a result of the experiment, the researchers will use the debriefing process as a means to both identify and address these issues. Researchers always take reasonable steps to identify and minimize any harm to participants. For example, if after participating in a study, a subject who had no signs of sadness or depression is now feeling sad, the researcher needs to identify this issue and attempt to do something to restore the subject to the state he or she was in prior to participating in the study. The researcher could ask the subject to think of something fun that could make them happy or even engage in a small task to make them happy as well. Subjects can also be provided with referrals for counseling if the need is indicated during debriefing.

Follow-Up Care and Information

During the debriefing process, subjects are also given contact information about who they may contact with any questions or comments about the research. After participating in debriefing, a subject has the ethical right to withdraw his or her data from the study as well.

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