Compensating Research Participants

Compensation can be non-monetary or monetary (cash, gift cards). It is not a benefit of research, but rather an incentive to participate. Researchers are not required to provide compensation.

The informed consent process needs to clearly specify how participants will be compensated, the amount of payment, and any conditions under which they will receive no or partial compensation.

When using a lottery, the consent process should inform participants of the odds of winning, how they can enter the drawing, how winners are chosen, and how winners are notified.

When using performance-based compensation, participants should be informed about base compensation and any bonus payment they may earn.

When offering participants non-monetary compensation, such as refreshments and treats and tokens of appreciation, it is not necessary to talk about it in the consent process.

If you are compensating participants with cash or gift card(s), please contact IRB staff for options.

When using a lottery form of compensation, the IRB will take the following into consideration:

  • Does the incentive create undue influence on potential participants’ decision-making?
  • Is the method for selecting winners and that the value of the prize divided by the number of subjects is fair, and reasonable in relation to the procedures involved?

When using a lottery, the consent process should inform participants of the odds of winning, how they can enter the drawing, how winners are chosen, and how winners are notified.

Compensation may be partially dependent on participants’ performance in the study. For example, compensation may be accrued based on how many correct responses in a memory recall game. Participants should be informed about base compensation and any bonus payment they may earn.

Offering participants non-monetary compensation, such as refreshments and treats and tokens of appreciation, should be described in the protocol but it is not necessary to talk about it in the consent process.

Undue Influence

The federal regulations do not set limits on compensation to participants. However, when reviewing research protocols, the Campus IRB must ensure that the compensation strategy cannot:

  • Induce subjects to participate against their better judgment
  • Encourage some individuals to lie or to withhold information in order to participate in the study when they don’t meet the eligibility criteria, thus impacting the integrity of the research, validity of the data, and safety of the participants
  • Create coercive situations if payments are being made to a third party, for example, parents may pressure their child to participate in a study if payment is significant

If a research includes an in-person eligibility screening, participants who are ineligible to enroll in the study must receive some form of compensation. This would not be true if the eligibility took place online or prior to scheduling a participants’ lab visit.

If participation involves completing tasks over time or through multiple sessions, compensation cannot be contingent on attending the final session. Compensation does not have to be divided evenly among sessions but participants should receive some portion of the compensation for the first session. In most cases, payments can be prorated and subjects who are not able to complete the research should receive compensation proportional to their participation, whether they withdraw or are withdrawn by the researchers.