Informed Consent in Research with Special Populations

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  • 0:06 Informed Consent Defined
  • 1:43 Child Participants
  • 3:00 Pregnant Women
  • 4:12 Adults with Impairments
  • 5:33 Inmates
  • 6:36 Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

There are people who need a little bit of extra protection because they are in a vulnerable state. These are people who need additional information because they are at some risk or because they cannot make decisions on their own. We will explore some of these special populations.

Informed Consent Defined

In the context of psychological research, informed consent provides participants with sufficiently detailed information on the study, so they can make an informed, voluntary and rational decision to participate. Since we will be looking at informed consent from a researcher's perspective, when I use the term 'informed consent,' I am referring to the physical form the participant would sign, as well as the information you as the researcher would give.

So, when participants give informed consent, that means they say they understand the risks and benefits based on your informed consent form and additional information. The form includes:

  • The purpose of the study
  • Expected duration
  • Procedures of the study
  • Information on their right to decline or withdraw
  • Foreseeable consequences of withdrawing or declining
  • Potential risk, discomfort or adverse effects
  • Prospective research benefits
  • Incentives, such as payments or rewards and
  • Whom to contact for questions

However, there are populations where this is not enough. Four of the most common populations where additional measures are required are children, pregnant women, adults with impairments and incarcerated individuals. Prior to contact with any of these special populations, a researcher must have his or her informed consent form approved by an Institutional Review Board. This is a group of researchers in an institution who review studies and consent forms before they are implemented to ensure protection of the rights and dignities of participants.


Legally, a child is anyone under the age of 18, making them unable to give consent to be part of a study. However, there are ways to secure consent and to get the child to participate. Since a child is unable to give consent, the researcher has to obtain consent through the person who can give consent. This would be the parent or guardian providing parental permission. Obviously, a younger child cannot fully understand what they would be signing up for, and so it is the job of the parent to understand the risks of enrollment.

If a child is capable of understanding some of the experiment, it is often expected that the researcher will obtain assent, or a child's agreement to participate. Whether researchers are to obtain assent or not is up to the Institutional Review Board at the time of approval for the study. Typically, a child at least seven years old will be asked to provide assent to participate.

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