Ethical Treatment of Research Participants

Whether you conduct research with animals or humans, there are ethical principles and federal and university regulations, guidelines and policies that direct your ethical treatment of your research participants. Some of the ethical aspects of research conducted with human beings include an individual’s right to choose to participate in the study. (This is the focus of the new requirement for informed consent).  Informed consent requires the participant’s complete understanding of the research procedures and the risks and possible outcomes of the research. Researchers must also demonstrate respect for the participant’s culture and race and exercise fairness in the selection of research participants. Researchers should have the welfare of the research participant as a goal of any study.

Social Science/Behavioral/ Education Institutional Review Board (SIRB)

Much of the research you do with human subjects must be reviewed by the Social Science/Behavioral/Education Institutional Review Board (SIRB) prior to its commencement (See MSU HRPP Manual Section 4-1). The MSU Human Research Protection Program (HRPP) has a comprehensive online manual on MSU’s human research protection policies with which you must be familiar, along with useful forms, templates and FAQs. You may find these materials on its website.

The criteria SIRB employs to evaluate research include:

  • Informed consent procedures that guarantee prospective human subjects understand the nature of the research and can knowledgeably and voluntarily decide whether to participate.
  • Risks are minimized and reasonable in relationship to the likely benefits of the research, meaning that the risks to a person posed by their participation is justified by the anticipated direct benefits to them, if any, and by the indirect benefits to society by the importance of the knowledge the study is likely to produce. Risk refers to the magnitude and probability of harm or injury (physical, psychological, social, or economic) resulting from participation in a research study. SIRB expects studies to bear a minimal risk for their participants.
  • Just selection of participants, to make sure that the burdens and benefits of research participation are justly distributed.
  • Privacy and confidentiality, meaning that appropriate procedures are in place to protect individuals’ privacy and that will maximize protection of the confidentiality of data.
  • Monitoring and observation, which implies the necessity of constant monitoring of the recruitment of participants, and the collection and analysis of data to assure the appropriateness of the research, its design, and the protection of the participants' rights.
  • Additional safeguards, to protect individuals who may be vulnerable to coercion or undue influence to participate in the study.

Cases of non-compliance (cases in which investigator(s) failed to fulfill the requirements set by the University and federal regulations protecting human subjects) or deviate from approved study procedures without SIRB’s prior approval is considered a violation of Michigan State University's Federal Wide Assurance (FWA-00004556) for the protection of human subjects. MSU and federal policies stipulate that non-compliance must be reported to SIRB immediately. SIRB will investigate all cases of non-compliance. SIRB may require research be suspended during the investigation. The investigator(s) may submit a written explanation of the events that may end up constituting non-compliance. Investigator(s) may also be asked to meet with SIRB to discuss the case. If SIRB decides that non-compliance took place in the study, SIRB will determine its seriousness and take appropriate corrective actions, which can include disciplinary sanction.

Use of Animal Research Subjects

The use of animals in research, teaching, and outreach activities is subject to state and federal laws and guidelines. University policy specifies that:

  • all animals under University care (that is, involved in projects under the aegis or sponsorship of the University) will be treated humanely;
  • prior to their inception, all animal projects receive approval by the All University Committee on Animal Use and Care (AUCAUC);
  • MSU will comply with state and federal regulations regarding animal use and care.