College students' ethical evaluations of the use of control groups in test anxiety treatment studies

Denise Marie Fyrberg, Fordham University


Randomized clinical trials (RCT) research, which compares the efficacy of two or more treatments, and generally includes a control group, is a scientifically and ethically complex research methodology that has not been examined with regard to prospective participants' ethical evaluations. Research on treatments for test anxiety, a psychological disorder particularly relevant for college students, has increasingly utilized the RCT paradigm. The present research examined college students' evaluations of various ethical issues associated with RCT research on test anxiety treatments, including: scientific validity, informed consent, risk(s) associated with RCT participation, the study's ability to alleviate potential risk(s), post-experimental referrals, decision-making authority over participant withdrawal, and the harm-benefit balance. These issues were examined within four hypothetical RCT protocols, which examined the efficacy of a new psychotherapy for the treatment of test anxiety, and varied in its use of control groups. The Ethical Attitudes Toward Randomized Clinical Trials Research (AT-RCT) was used by participants to evaluate one of the four RCT protocols. The four RCT control groups differed along two dimensions (receipt of treatment (yes/no) and frequency of professional contact (high/low)) and included: active treatment, nonspecific attention, nonscheduled treatment and wait list. It was hypothesized that participants would judge those RCT protocols which require control groups with no treatment and a low frequency of professional contact more negatively than those protocols which require control groups with treatment and a high frequency of professional contact. It was expected that participants would be less approving of the research protocol following the consideration of various ethical issues, and that greater numbers of females than males would report experiencing test anxiety. Although the hypotheses were largely unsupported, it was found that most undergraduate participants believed the RCT protocol they evaluated (1) should be conducted, and (2) was a somewhat good test of treatment effectiveness: students also reported that (3) informed consent procedures allowed participants to make rational and voluntary decisions regarding participation; (4) there were few risks to participants; (5) the study was sufficiently able to alleviate potential risks; and (6) possible benefits to RCT participants, as well as to society, outweighed potential risks to RCT participants.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Psychological tests

Recommended Citation

Fyrberg, Denise Marie, "College students' ethical evaluations of the use of control groups in test anxiety treatment studies" (1998). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9825875.