Special Session Summary Doing Good Research: the Ethics and Regulation of Consumer Research

Carolyn Costley, Waikato Management School
[ to cite ]:
Carolyn Costley (2003) ,"Special Session Summary Doing Good Research: the Ethics and Regulation of Consumer Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 366.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Page 366



Carolyn Costley, Waikato Management School

Stricter requirements on all research involving humans motivated our attention to ethics regulation issues. More often than not, ethical reviews are mandatory rather than optional. The three presentations addressed experiential, theoretical and practical issues surrounding ethics reviews of consumer research.

Costley and Todd reported evidence that although proffered concerns consistently center on informed consent and non-injury, the processes and standards by which reviewers evaluate investigations vary. Accordingly, researchers’ experiences with ethics reviews ranged from painless rubber-stamping to delay and frustration. Researchers’ views on the process included both skepticism and acceptance. Regardless of ease or frustration, the strongest skepticism came from scholars who took much care with their applications because they considered their topic sensitive or controversial. They highlighted the need for transparency in the review process and education on both sides of the fenceBresearchers and reviewers.

Smith and Kimmel identified the use of deception as a main concern in consumer research. Summarizing the various points in research where deception might occur, they noted that there are often trade-offs between the soundest method and the most ethical practice. They further observed that the boundaries for acceptable deception depend on one’s choice of theory. If constrained by rules of 'no deception=Ba deontological approachBmost consumer research would be impossible or unhelpful. Consequentialism permits deception if the benefits outweigh the costs, but the unpredictability of all costs and benefits limits its usefulness. They suggested a Social Contract Theory approach that delineates acceptable deception based on participants’ expectations that deception might occur.

Moving from theory to practice, Klein and Smith investigated a specific Social Contract Theory protocol called 'forewarning.’ In their experiments, forewarning amounted to telling people ahead of time that the researchers would not tell them who the sponsor was or the purpose of the study, or that they would tape the interview. They confirmed that deception bothers people and that forewarning helps. Forewarning did better than debriefing at reducing the negative consequences of deception such as negative feelings and reduced likelihood of future participation.

Paul loom’s discussion noted looming problemsBdeclining participation, regulation effects on research choices and publication opportunitiesBthat make this topic a huge issue for consumer research. Given that institutional review boards do not appear to apply theory-based standards deliberately or consistently, researchers should provide theoretical justification for their research protocols in their applications. He strongly supported the development of opt-in approaches such as forewarning. Group discussion suggested implementing social contracts by giving an option for "only non-deception studies" as well as "yes" to people opting in to participating in subject pools.