This review seeks to fill the research gap by synthesizing existing peer-reviewed literature regarding the provision of incentives to youth participating in research. The primary question this paper seeks to answer is: what are the concerns and best practices identified in the literature for the appropriate and ethical provision of incentives to children and adolescents?
Methods: The databases Social Science Citation Index and PsychInfo were searched twice for relevant literature. First, the terms “incentives”, “youth”, “children”, and “research” were entered into the databases. The second search, conducted by a research librarian, included several additional search terms: incentive* OR stipend* OR payment* OR reimburs* OR “participation payment*”, research OR study OR survey, AND victim* OR youth OR adolescen* OR juvenile* OR children OR subject*. Articles from peer-reviewed publications were eligible for inclusion regardless of whether they were structured as empirical studies, literature reviews, conceptual articles, or other formats. A total of 1,098 articles were yielded through the search. Article titles were screened for relevance, followed by a review of abstracts and full-texts. Ultimately, 25 articles were selected for inclusion and were reviewed in order to identify central themes.
Findings: Seven themes were identified in the selected literature: wage-payment model, effectiveness for recruitment, effectiveness for retention, financial versus alternative incentives, coerciveness, the influence of incentives on the validity of results, and other ethical dilemmas. The 25 articles include surveys of researchers, members of Institutional Review Boards, youth, and parents. In several papers, authors provide expert commentary or recommendations regarding the ethics of incentives for young participants. Few empirical tests of incentives were identified, including a study in which a small guaranteed payment (but not a lottery for a larger gift) was significantly associated with retention.
Conclusion and Implications: Although many unanswered questions remain, the findings of this review suggest incentives can appropriately be provided to youth involved in research and may provide tangible benefits to the research endeavor. The suggestions of the National Academy of Sciences, the recommendations of professional organizations, and the peer reviewed literature all indicate incentives may be a useful tool for recruiting and retaining participants as long as necessary precautions are taken not to exert undue influence on potential participants. Yet, it is clear that much remains to be learned in order to better understand the costs and benefits.