Concealment and fabrication by experienced research subjects

Clin Trials. 2013;10(6):935-48. doi: 10.1177/1740774513492917. Epub 2013 Jul 18.


Background: Subjects who enroll in multiple studies have been found to use deception at times to overcome restrictive screening criteria. Deception undermines subject safety as well as study integrity. Little is known about the extent to which experienced research subjects use deception and what type of information is concealed, withheld, or distorted.

Purpose: This study examined the prevalence of deception and types of deception used by subjects enrolling in multiple studies.

Methods: Self-report of deceptive behavior used to gain entry into clinical trials was measured among a sample of 100 subjects who had participated in at least two studies in the past year.

Results: Three quarters of subjects reported concealing some health information from researchers in their lifetime to avoid exclusion from enrollment in a study. Health problems were concealed by 32% of the sample, use of prescribed medications by 28%, and recreational drug use by 20% of the sample. One quarter of subjects reported exaggerating symptoms in order to qualify for a study and 14% reported pretending to have a health condition in order to qualify.

Limitations: Although this study finds high rates of lifetime deceptive behavior, the frequency and context of this behavior is unknown. Understanding the context and frequency of deception will inform the extent to which it jeopardizes study integrity and safety.

Conclusion: The use of deception threatens both participant safety and the integrity of research findings. Deception may be fueled in part by undue inducements, overly restrictive criteria for entry, and increased demand for healthy controls. Screening measures designed to detect deception among study subjects would aid in both protecting subjects and ensuring the quality of research findings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Deception*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation
  • Patient Selection*
  • Research Subjects*
  • Self Report
  • Sex Factors
  • Unemployment