Misconceptions about coercion and undue influence: reflections on the views of IRB members

Bioethics. 2013 Nov;27(9):500-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2012.01972.x. Epub 2012 Apr 12.


Payment to recruit research subjects is a common practice but raises ethical concerns relating to the potential for coercion or undue influence. We conducted the first national study of IRB members and human subjects protection professionals to explore attitudes as to whether and why payment of research participants constitutes coercion or undue influence. Upon critical evaluation of the cogency of ethical concerns regarding payment, as reflected in our survey results, we found expansive or inconsistent views about coercion and undue influence that may interfere with valuable research. In particular, respondents appear to believe that coercion and undue influence lie on a continuum; by contrast, we argue that they are wholly distinct: whereas undue influence is a cognitive distortion relating to assessment of risks and benefits, coercion is a threat of harm. Because payment is an offer, rather than a threat, payment is never coercive.

Keywords: coercion; payment; undue influence.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude*
  • Coercion*
  • Data Collection
  • Ethics Committees, Research
  • Ethics, Research
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / ethics*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Selection / ethics*
  • Power, Psychological*
  • Research Subjects / economics*
  • Research*