Evaluating and addressing emotional risks in survey research

Susan Labott, Timothy P Johnson, Norah C Feeny, Michael Fendrich


Survey research on emotionally distressing topics is common.  While this research poses little risk to most human subjects, some individuals, such as those with pre-existing depression or PTSD, are more vulnerable to distress.  In this paper, we review methods that can be used to enhance human subject protections in survey research on potentially upsetting topics.  Specifically, we discuss the consent process, eligibility screening, strategies for use during administration of the survey (interviewer training, checks on respondent safety, and formal scripts to screen for needs), post-survey assessments and resources, and Data Safety Monitoring Boards.  Our goal is to provide a summary of methods available for the protection of human subjects to allow researchers to select and adapt those most relevant for a specific study.


survey research; ethics; human subjects; emotion

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