Participant motivators in research

Posted on by Leslie Gelling in Recruitment and retention, Research

Research without research participants would be like jam sandwiches without peanut butter; it simply wouldn’t work.  So why is so little thought given to the motivators for people choosing to accept or decline an invitation to participate in research?  What are the motivators?  Being armed with such knowledge might help researchers to maximise recruitment.

Motivators can be broadly separated into altruistic and personal factors.  When asked why they agreed to participate in a clinical trial, research has indicated that many participants place great emphasis on their desire to help others by contributing to the development of new treatments.  Sometimes individuals will agree to participate in research knowing that they cannot possibly benefit through their participation.

Those invited to enter clinical trials are often those who are struggling with their treatment or who have exhausted treatment options.  A study medication might offer something new and, for some, it might be a last resort.  In either case, the participant is motivated to enter the study for personal reasons.  They are hoping that a) the medication works as the researchers think it might and b) that they will be randomised into a treatment arm of the study.

Another reported personal motivator is a desire to receive better treatment.  Some might hope that by entering a study they will gain access to a renowned clinical centre where more advanced treatment might be available from experts in the field.  Others might believe that entering a study, with its addition visits and extra tests, will result in them being seen more often.  In addition, the researchers, who are also often part of the clinical team, might be more interested in their care.

So there is a balance between altruistic motivators and personal motivators but it is important that we recognise some of the possible flaws in research of this kind.  Most people would agree that we should help others but there is a danger that knowing this might influence someone’s response when asked about their motivators for entering a clinical trial.  The respondent thinks they know the right answer and doesn’t want to appear selfish by focusing on the personal motivators.

Anonymising responses, as many have done, might allow respondents to give an honest opinion?  This, however, could only work if the individuals had not already convinced themselves that they were entering the research for altruistic reasons.  The real test would be to invite participants into a trial where there might be potential for personal benefit but once consented they are informed that no-one in the study will receive the new treatment.  Would they still feel so motivated to continue their participation in the trial?

Understanding what motivates people to enter clinical trials is complex and is likely to be different for different people.  This is why it is so important that great care is taken in ensuring, as far as is possible, that those invited to participate in clinical trials are entering the research for the right reasons.  Unfortunately, it might not always be clear what the individual motivators might be.

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