Research and Analysis Best Practices in Behavioral Sciences

By Peter Gamache, Ph.D. & Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, Turnaround Life, Inc.

Behavioral and mental health conditions have a long history of misunderstanding and exaggeration. Societal factors play a significant role in how those with behavioral or mental health problems are perceived. Behavioral science research can be used not only to educate the practicing professional but also to educate the public and help to fight stigma. With heightened awareness and understanding, health disparities can be eliminated and better health policies developed.

However, before diving into research, there are best practices to take into consideration. In this guide, we will discuss the principles of ethical research, how to disclose funding sources, how to avoid funder bias and the importance of using inclusive language.

Ethical Research

When it comes to the behavioral sciences studies, it would be unethical to conduct research that converts public resources, such as funding, into private gains. It would also be unprincipled to conduct biased work. Because research and analysis involve the participation of individuals or groups who have the relevant experience and background, there are also a number of ethical practices to take into account.

The research should not put participants at risk or seriously damage the environment. Informed consent is another one of the foundations of research ethics and is key to minimizing harm, distress or discomfort for the participants. Participants of your study must not have been coerced or deceived into participation. They should understand the purpose of the research and, more importantly, recognize that they are participating in the study. It’s also an ethical practice to discuss your research methods and any potential inconveniences the participants may experience.

You should also explain how you intend to protect their anonymity and ensure confidentiality. In most behavioral science studies, the subject matter will be private or sensitive in nature. Participants will want to feel safe when sharing information by knowing that identifiers that will reveal who they are will be removed from any published works. If for any reason, you need to disclose their identities, you have the legal responsibility to get their permission.

Disclosure of Funding Sources

Behavioral health studies can be costly to conduct and may require multiple funding sources to support. Research in behavioral science is likely funded by grants from various government agencies, foundations and private companies. However, financial connections between funders and researchers may raise concerns around biases and conflicting interests. Conflicts of interest can occur when the researcher has financial interests or personal relationships with the organization funding the study.

It is a common concern to assume that sponsored studies will favor the sponsor. Complete reporting of financial support sources and the existence of any conflicts of interest allow the research and the accuracy of its published findings to be judged on its merits. Disclosing funding sources also increases transparency and, in turn, public trust.

Disclosure of funding sources is so important in behavioral sciences studies that government agencies such as the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control have established guidelines for authors to disclose funding sources and financial relationships that may bias their decisions, activities and work.

For research to be respected, well-received and allow the readers to assess it fully, it should be free of funder bias. Our next post will more fully explore why it’s essential to avoid funder bias. We will also talk about using inclusive language and why communication of your research findings are more when it is non-discriminatory, unbiased, and free of judgmental labels.

At Turnaround Life, Inc., it is our mission to design and evaluate systems and programs that help people turn their lives around. Through development, evaluation, education and capacity building, we are here to meet your needs. For more information about us, visit our website.

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