The ability of minors to define and recognize their rights in research

Jean-Marie B Rau, Fordham University


Current ethical guidelines require researchers to obtain guardian consent for minor participants, with few exceptions. To protect minors in situations where guardian consent is waived, researchers need to be certain that minors understand consent information and rights. Despite this, few studies have examined minors' understanding of research consent procedures and research rights. This study collected data on minors' understanding of informed consent and research rights research, including at what point in development this understanding reaches adult levels. It also evaluated the merit of a brief lesson designed to enhance participants' understanding of research rights. Participants were 291 predominately White, middle-class 10-, 13-, 16-, and 20-year-olds. Following informed consent/assent procedures, participants responded to seven questions regarding the present study's informed consent information (i.e., purpose, procedure, consent information, confidential nature, risks, benefits, and the right to withdraw). Next they received a lesson in the form of a Research Participants' Bill of Rights, or a control lesson about psychology. After reading brief hypothetical research vignettes, participants completed four questionnaires designed to assess comprehension of research rights and ability to detect rights violations. A 2 (treatment vs. control group) x 4 (grade) x 2 (sex) MANCOVA on responses to the four questionnaires controlling for verbal skill differences yielded main effects for treatment group, grade, and sex. All participants receiving the Bill of Rights, regardless of age, better understood rights and detected rights violations. A 4 (age) x 2 (sex) ANCOVA on participants' comprehension of informed consent information for this study controlling for differences in verbal skills yielded a main effect of grade and sex. Post hoc tests indicated that only the 10-year-olds differed from adults concerning comprehension of research rights and consent information for this study, and ability to detect violations of research rights. This study demonstrated that minors as young as 13 are capable of understanding information regarding experimentation and rights as well as adults. In addition, investigators can utilize The Research Participants' Bill of Rights as a quick, economical tool to ensure all participants maximally understand their research rights.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Psychology|Experiments|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

Rau, Jean-Marie B, "The ability of minors to define and recognize their rights in research" (1997). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9730105.