I realized I did not do a proper debriefing on my qualifier project for doctoral candidacy in Experimental Psychology from a little over a year ago. I only say "proper debriefing" because my first Ph.D advisor (before she left the program and dropped advising me) trained me to simply thank the participant and to not talk about the details of the study with others. Furthermore, she wanted me to stick to how she trained me without any deviations, which is why I trusted her and was convinced that I was taught how to do a proper debriefing for my experiment (that's not mentioning I had IRB approval).

It was not until I created my dissertation proposal and the materials to go along with it that my current advisor asked about a proper written debriefing statement to upload and submit to the IRB.

That was when I realized that I may have a possible issue. This is a major issue since my previous advisor's consent forms in her lab were shredded entirely and any digital data I can see (on my end at least) is completely and totally scrubbed after one year. I am able to search my emails via an old research assistant's name (since she sent out those emails and cced me in them) and ones I sent out from years ago to email them and properly debrief them if I want. However, would this be necessary at all?

Most importantly, would this error potentially cause my qualifier project to be totally revoked in this case? I also did a poster on it at a conference last year. Could that also be retracted?

If that is possible, what are my options for resolving this discrepancy?

In case it's important, my qualifier project fell under exempt approval because it was an eye tracking study that tracked eye movements as participants read sentences and completed a word reading measure. So, there was no chance of harm at all unless participants held their eyes open indefinitely. I told them to blink as they normally would.

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    @Dawn I did not say I would provide a written debrief at all to my campus IRB. There were no debriefing materials even uploaded at all.
    – zzmondo1
    Dec 4, 2023 at 2:43
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    Sure, but is that going to change the answers in any meaningful way?
    – cag51
    Dec 4, 2023 at 3:33
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    @cag51 The answers may be similar ("Contact your IRB" could be one answer), but that doesn't mean the questions aren't distinct. "I did not give my participants a copy of their signed consent" vs "I did not provide a debrief statement to my participants" are completely different questions. Frankly, I've never written one, and wouldn't think that contacting the IRB is necessary, so the answers would be different anyway. Dec 4, 2023 at 3:55
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    These are similar but very separate questions and so this needs to be reopened.
    – Dawn
    Dec 4, 2023 at 4:11
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    Fine, I'll reopen, I was in the process of closing while there were no answers and now I don't think it's fair to close with only one answer permitted, but OP needs to stop asking these questions here and start talking to their IRB. This is the same question as their last one: what happens when there's a protocol violation or might be a protocol violation. The details are just details. We don't need to rehash this for every possible way.
    – Bryan Krause
    Dec 4, 2023 at 4:48

1 Answer 1


Debriefing is not a universal requirement in human subjects research. I have never written one in an IRB I have submitted.

This is what my investigator's manual says (but check yours; emphasis added):

Research which requires deception regarding the purpose of the research or any other necessary element of consent is permissible when justified by prospective scientific, educational, or applied value and when effective non-deceptive alternative procedures are not feasible. Additional consent debriefing requirements are necessary to obtain informed consent for this type of research. ... If a participant in a study involving deception chooses to withdraw consent following the debriefing, the data collected in that case may not be included in the analysis of the study.

Debriefing is necessary when their understanding of what they consented to changed. If there is no deception in your eye-tracking study, there is no reason to debrief. I don't know why someone would ask about your dissertation research needing one, unless that does use deception, or they just habitually use one.

If your protocol was approved as written, without stating you would supply a written debriefing, then you do not need to provide one. There is no need to second-guess your approval here.

Most importantly, would this error potentially cause my qualifier project to be totally revoked in this case? I also did a poster on it at a conference last year. Could that also be retracted?

No and no. Well, unless there was deception you didn't mention.

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