Debriefing is a crucial component of the consent process for any research involving the use of deception or incomplete disclosure. Debriefing occurs when subjects are given the full explanation of how and why subjects were deceived and the true hypotheses being tested by the research. The debriefing also should include any other relevant information pertaining to the study.
When debriefing will occur, researchers should should consider if it would be more appropriate to provide subjects with a debriefing script and/or a debriefing statement. Researchers use a debriefing script as a reference to orally explain the study to a subject. A debriefing statement is a document given to subjects to keep after an oral debriefing occurs or is made available to subjects after the research has concluded.
In some circumstances, informing subjects of deception may cause more than the deception itself. For example, if a student is selected for participation in a study based upon certain physical characteristics (i.e. weight), it may not be appropriate for the debriefing to describe that aspect of the research.
The timing of the debriefing is also important to consider depending on the nature of the research. The IRB generally requires that subjects be debriefed immediately following their participation in the research. However, it is possible that debriefing subjects immediately after their participation in the research has ended could compromise the validity of the study (e.g. subjects who have already participated in the study tell other potential subjects about the research). Therefore, the IRB recommends the following strategies:
- If the subjects' name and contact information are collected as part of the research procedures, debriefing information can be sent to them via mail, email, or by phone following the completion of the study.
- If the subjects' names and contact information are not collected, researchers can give subjects a URL (website address) that they can go to in order to view debriefing information and a date in which it is available.