Are research participants truly informed? Readability of informed consent forms used in research

Ethics Behav. 1991;1(4):239-52. doi: 10.1207/s15327019eb0104_2.


Researchers typically attempt to fulfill disclosure and informed consent requirements by having participants read and sign consent forms. The present study evaluated the reading levels of informed consent forms used in psychology research and other fields (medical research; social science and education research; and health, physical education, and recreation research). Two standardized measures of readability were employed to analyze a randomly selected sample (N = 108) of informed consent forms used in Institutional Review Board-approved research projects at a midwestern university during the 1987-1988 academic year. Results indicate that informed consent forms are typically written at a higher reading level than is appropriate for the intended population and that there are no consistently significant differences in readability among areas of research or between college student and noncollege student participants. Due to the unacceptably high reading level of the consent forms, one must question whether participants can comprehend the information contained in the consent form.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Behavioral Research*
  • Child
  • Cognition*
  • Comprehension*
  • Consent Forms*
  • Ethics Committees
  • Ethics Committees, Research
  • Human Experimentation*
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent*
  • Psychology
  • Research Subjects*
  • Research*