IRB: Institutional Review Board

Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

An institutional review board (IRB) is an important part of maintaining ethical standards in research. Learn more about how an IRB works in this lesson and test your knowledge with a quiz at the end.

What is an IRB?

Remember when you were a kid and were working on an idea for a science project? You wanted to build an erupting volcano, but had to get approval from your science teacher before you were allowed to do the project. You wrote a paper describing how you would build the volcano and what materials you would be using, then you waited with your fingers crossed while the teacher reviewed your proposal.

This scenario is not so different to what researchers have to do before they are able to perform an experiment. The difference is that instead of a teacher reviewing the proposal, researchers have their experiments reviewed by an institutional review board (IRB). An IRB is a group not directly involved in the research that makes a formal assessment of the procedure to determine if it is ethical and if it is allowed to be performed.

Why is an IRB Important?

An IRB review is important in psychological research because there are certain ethical standards that must be upheld. In research, ethics refers to a set of moral standards that regulate right and wrong actions. As a researcher, you may become so involved in a project that you are not aware of an ethical concern. It is the job of the IRB to notice these issues before you are allowed to proceed with your procedure.

Using an IRB as an independent reviewer prevents wrong actions from taking place. IRBs are typically used to review ethical standards in procedures involving human or animal research. This system of review provides protection for the participants of the study. It also protects the researcher from oversights that could have professional consequences.

The IRB may respond to a research proposal in a number of ways. They may allow a researcher to proceed with the procedure as it has been proposed. They may suggest that some aspects of the procedure are changed before they will approve it, or they may not allow the procedure to take place at all.

IRB Review Process
IRB Process

In the previous example, the teacher is acting as the IRB and will decide if you can build the erupting volcano for your science project. Consider the following ways the teacher could respond to your proposal:

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