Informed consent is the act of making a participant in some academic study aware of the nature of the study taking place. Though different institutions have different requirements, some common elements include:

A statement of confidentiality where the participant is informed on whether their identifying information will be included with their responses. If yes, then the participant needs to know in what capacity, and if no, then how the primary investigator plans to keep that information secret. Remember, confidential is not the same thing as anonymous.

A description of the study's purpose, and how the data gleaned from the participant will be used eventually. Some common uses include instrument design and academic publishing. This should also include a blurb about what the participant can expect to happend during the course of the test.

A voluntary statement. It is currently considered unethical to force a participant to be involved in a study if they particularly would like not to. Therefore, each participant needs to be aware they can drop out of the study, without fear of reprisal.

If videotape of audiotape is used to capture data, then the participant needs to know the eventual disposition of those materials, and whether that media will be used in presenting results.

Most institutions, especially universities have an Institutional Review Board that require informed consent from any researcher using human subjects.

Informed consent is also highly important in medical procedures. Doing anything to the patient without his/her (or a legal guardian's) express informed consent is tantamount to assault.

The only exception is in an emergency when the patient's wishes are not known such as when a patient is found unconscious. Resuscitation of a patient does not require informed consent and is not a crime although "not for resuscitation" orders should be followed if they exist.

Informed consent can't be fully utilised in psychological experiments, because knowning the true meaning of the test would destroy the results. With a purely physical procedure it's easy to explain to the subject what is going to happen - 'we're going to stop you sleeping for 48 hours and monitor your reaction time.' Here the test subject knows what will be done, but he won't change his behavior.

However with a psychological experiment - 'we're going to place you into a stressful situation and see how long it takes you to display aggressive behavior' - having the subject know will affect the result. Here the subject will be consciously aware that his aggression is being monitored, and so may make additional effort to restrain himself.

The solution is to not explain to the subject what the true aim of the experiment is, revealing it only after the experiment is complete. However this soon results in a subject showing combative behavior - one person who took part in several experiments said 'After the first few, it became a case of me against them. I'd being trying to work out what they were really measuring, and this would make me behave differently.'

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