IRB: Ethics & Human Research

Incentives to Participate in Research: Are Lotteries the Winning Ticket?

Researchers who conduct electronic surveys are increasingly using lotteries to attract participants. These lotteries are permissible under federal regulations, but attitudes among bioethicists and institutional review board (IRB) members toward this recruiting strategy vary considerably from unconditional endorsements to prohibitions. This paper argues for a middle ground: lotteries should be allowed but subject to certain conditions. The paper addresses some theoretical concerns about lotteries in human subjects research, and shows that lotteries are theoretically justifiable in that context as well as in others. However, it also shows that lotteries can be problematic in the way they are administered. The paper identifies the criteria for the appropriate administration of lotteries in human subjects research and concludes that researchers and IRB members can be confident that lotteries satisfy the ethical requirements for research whenever these criteria are satisfied.

Phillips T. Incentives to participate in research: Are lotteries the winning ticket? IRB: Ethics & Human Subject Research 2015;37(2):1-7.