Securing participants for your study can be challenging. Often, potential participants do not think the indirect benefits of participating in a study are worth the time they will spend in the study. Offering a direct benefit or incentive for participation may help increase participants’ willingness to take part in your study.
Compensation may take numerous forms such as gift cards, money, or other benefits. Identifying a monetary or non-monetary benefit for participation and providing compensation that aligns with your participants’ interests may increase your participation rate. However, it is important to offer compensation without undue inducement.
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Undue inducement refers to compensation that is so great in amount or nature that it decreases participants’ ability to rationally consider participation in the study (Wilkinson & Moore, 1997). For example, if you are studying a population of severely economically disadvantaged individuals, a $100 grocery gift card may be considered undue inducement. If $100 can mean the difference between putting food on the table or going hungry, such an incentive can be considered coercive. People may feel compelled to participate if the compensation will significantly impact their physical, psychological, or economic well-being; this, in turn, compromises the voluntary nature of the study.
To avoid this, you should consider offering compensation that serves as a token of appreciation or reimbursement. This token should be intended to thank participants for their time or to reimburse them for any costs they may have had to endure (e.g., the cost of gas if they have to drive themselves to the study site). The compensation should not be so large that individuals may feel compelled to participate. In the example above, a $5 gift card may be considered an appropriate level of compensation without risking undue inducement. Just remember that, above all else, potential participants should see your study as a voluntary activity, and you should not offer any incentives that might change that perception.
Wilkinson, M., & Moore, A. (1997). Inducement in research. Bioethics 11: 373-389.