Deception Topics



Deception is defined as the intentional withholding of information or presentation of deliberately misleading information to a participant.


Some feel that deception is never acceptable, while others feel that deception may be necessary to maintain validity.


Deception may be considered if a researcher is concerned that a participant's behavior or responses may change if they are made aware of all details of the study. However, alternative procedures and designs should be considered and if no alternatives exist, you must justify your use of deception.


Deception may be through omission or commission.


If deception is used, participants must be debriefed as soon as possible.

Deception Concept Map or Top of Page


Full Disclosure

Full disclosure means informing the participant of every aspect of the study including the purpose and nature of the study. If any information is left out during this process, deception has occurred.

Deception Concept Map or Top of Page



All research projects that involve human participants should end with a debriefing. The debriefing serves several purposes. During debriefing, all aspects of the experiment should be explained to the participants, including any information that may have been omitted to protect the experimental hypothesis from reactivity. If active deception was employed in the research, this deception must be revealed during debriefing. Any negative effects produced by experimental procedures must be ameliorated during the debriefing.


Function of Debriefing


Debriefing serves several functions: education of participants, resolution of ethical issues that might be associated with the research project, data collection concerning research manipulations and procedures.


Debriefing serves the purpose of benefiting participants by educating them about the research process. One of the greatest benefits to most participants in psychological research is what they might learn about the conduct of scientific work in psychology.


Debriefing serves to ameliorate ethical problems that might be created by the use of deception, either by omission or commission, during the research project. It is even more critical that deception by commission be explained because these types of deception might compromise the informed consent process. In this case, the debriefing procedure must also include a dehoaxing and desensitization to the deception. That is, the deception must be undone in a credible way (e.g., if students were told that they had failed at an academic task, they must be informed of the way in which this deception was carried out, the reasons for it, and must be convinced that their performance on this task was in no way a "failure," in spite of contrary information provided during the procedures). Any anxiety or other negative effects of the deception should be alleviated. Deceived participants should be given an opportunity to withdraw their data from the experiment (getting full consent for use of their data after the deception is undone and the participant in now fully informed).
Debriefing can also serve a data collection function in which the researcher can learn about the participantís perception of the manipulations, strategies used while performing the task, and other observations that might be useful in interpreting the data generated.


When should debriefing be held?


An immediate debriefing should be given as soon as participants complete their part of the experiment. This debriefing should be as complete as possible. However, not all information may be available for a complete debriefing at this time. For example, the participantís scored data might not be available at the time of the debriefing or other details of the findings might be unknown until all data have been collected and analyzed. In this case, participants should be given contact information so that they can obtain this information when it becomes available. Researchers should be able to immediately explain the purpose of the research and the research hypotheses, including the manipulations of variables that the participant experienced. However, explanations about how data will be used to evaluate hypotheses and explanations about how these findings fit into the larger research literature can be explained in an immediate debriefing. These explanations serve to educate the participant about the role of the research project in the larger scientific endeavor.

Deception Concept Map or Top of Page



Deception by omission, also called passive deception, occurs when information is withheld from a participant.

Deception Concept Map or Top of Page



Deception by commission, also called active deception, occurs when a participant is actively misled. This includes being given a false purpose, the use of confederates, or being given a placebo.

Deception Concept Map or Top of Page



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Stanny, Wheeler, and Kass