Student Participant IRB Policies

These guidelines and procedures were approved by Illinois State University’s Institutional Review Board on May 16, 2022

Institutional Review Board Approval

Research projects involving the use of human participants conducted by psychology faculty, staff, and students must be reviewed by Illinois State University's Institutional Review Board (IRB) for compliance with the Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP) guidelines. This includes research conducted on and off-campus and research completed by graduate students for theses or dissertations. Proposals are reviewed by the IRB. In some cases, proposals will undergo additional ethical review. For example, a nursing home may require a separate review for research conducted at its facility, or Thomas Metcalf School, although part of Illinois State, conducts its own ethical review in addition to what is conducted by the IRB. Researchers with off-campus projects need to check with the external site to determine whether a separate review is required.

To start the ethics review process, researchers should follow instructions outlined by Research Ethics & Compliance for completing a protocol through the Human Ethics (formerly Cayuse) IRB system. If the researcher is not a psychology faculty member or staff member, a faculty sponsor must be consulted and identified as the principal investigator on the Human Ethics project. When the project is approved by the IRB, the researcher will receive a notification email. This email outlines the conditions under which the research may be conducted as well as the duration of the approval. It is the researcher's responsibility to keep this email. If any substantive changes are made in the conditions of participant treatment in the research project, the researcher must submit a modification in Human Ethics outlining the proposed changes for review and approval by the IRB. For exempt studies, modifications to add new team members or new site permissions do not need to be submitted for review. PIs are still expected to ensure that new team members are appropriately trained and that appropriate site permission has been obtained before the new site or team members are engaged. If the study was reviewed at the full-board level, a submission must be submitted before the IRB deadline to be reviewed at the next IRB meeting.

Protecting Participant Rights

Participation in research is voluntary for all potential subjects, including, but not limited to students enrolled in psychology courses in which some form of research participation is allowed or required. Moreover, participants have the right to withdraw from an ongoing study at any time without prejudice (i.e., with full compensation and no coercion to continue). Any published documents referring to data collected from human participants must protect the confidentiality of those participants. Unless the IRB approved a waiver of consent, researchers must secure informed consent from participants before collecting data. Participants must be at least 18 years of age in order to give informed consent to participate in research; parent/guardian consent is required for any participant under the age of 18. Permission from a legally authorized representative is required if a participant is 18 or older but does not have the mental capacity to consent on their own. The informed consent should include a description of the study, nature of participation, duration and purpose, possible risks and benefits, assurances regarding confidentiality, right to withdraw without penalty, and opportunities for participants to have questions or concerns regarding the research addressed. The Research Ethics & Compliance website includes specific guidelines for informed consent along with consent templates.

Recruiting Participants through the Psychology Participant Pool

The department utilizes an online participant pool, which is referred to as SONA. Once a research project is approved by the IRB, a copy of the approval email must be sent to the SONA system administrator to register the project. A study code word, which will be used to identify the project in SONA, is required when registering the research project. The study code must be a common word, which is easy for participants to remember, but does not convey or imply anything about the nature of the research. The study code word must be both connotatively and denotatively neutral. Some example study codes are: COFFEE, JUPITER, AND METAL. Please use only one word.

Researchers may post a new study in SONA by completing SONA's online form, noting:

  • the study code word in the “Study Name”
  • any participant requirements (“eligibility”), including a statement that participants must be at least 18 years of age (unless this requirement has been waived by the IRB for a particular study, or unless the researcher has made arrangements to obtain parent/guardian consent for students under the age of 18)
  • the duration of the study
  • the number of credits
  • the Principal Investigator's name
  • IRB approval code and expiration date
  • Only after the project has been registered with the SONA system administrator may researchers solicit participants through SONA. Researchers may reserve rooms for research through the University’s Facility Request System.

Once the study has been entered in SONA, researchers may create time slots with available days, times, and locations of the study. SONA will post these slots until the listed times have expired or are filled. SONA will automatically send a confirmation email to the participant when they sign up for a time slot.

Credit for participation will be maintained within SONA. Credit is determined in one-tenth units based on the time required for participation in the research. The following table outlines the compensation provided (yet see paragraph below concerning travel time):

Length of study Credit earned
0-6 minutes 0.1
7-12 minutes 0.2
13-18 minutes 0.3
19-24 minutes 0.4
25-30 minutes 0.5
31-36 minutes 0.6
37-42 minutes 0.7
43-48 minutes 0.8
49-54 minutes 0.9
55-60 minutes 1.0
61-66 minutes 1.1

Researchers should calculate the maximum expected time necessary to complete the research and allot units accordingly; thus, all participants receive the same amount of credit for a given study, even if some participants finish more quickly than others. If a participant takes longer than expected, the researcher can adjust the credit awarded in SONA. If the research requires more than one session, credit is given as if there were multiple projects; however, credit may be withheld until the final session is completed. Participants who choose not to participate or who withdraw before the study has been completed receive prorated credit corresponding to the amount of time spent (i.e., up to 6 minutes is .1 units, between 7 and 12 minutes is .2 units, etc.).

Two types of studies can be conducted through SONA: in-person and online studies. Researchers should consider travel time when compensating participants who choose to participate in in-person studies because they have additional considerations (e.g., transportation) than online participants. As such, include an additional .5 units (30 minutes) to allow for participants’ travel time to and from the study. For example, a laboratory study that takes between 25 and 30 minutes should receive 1 unit; an online study that takes between 25 and 30 minutes should receive .5 units. If an instructor arranged an extra credit opportunity for students in a psychology class (such that class time is set aside for an extra credit opportunity), then students would not get the extra .5 credit because the researcher is coming to the classroom. Extra credit research opportunities that take place during class will not be given the additional travel credit.

Participants will have access to their participation history for the semester and shall be allowed to manage the allocation of their credits to their courses that are allowing research participation credit (note that some instructors have specific course deadlines for when they will accept credit; students will need to contact their instructors directly for this information). Following participation in a study, researchers will award the appropriate credit for the participant identified in SONA. Participants will receive an automated email notification of their credit.

It is important for researchers to check their posted time slots frequently. Researchers are responsible for attending all appointments on time. Researchers must contact a participant 24 hours in advance to cancel an appointment; any participant who is not contacted must be given credit. Any known failures on the part of the researcher to keep appointments will be reported to the Chair of the Department of Psychology Research Committee. Researcher penalties for failure to keep appointments may include, but are not limited to, the researcher being denied access to the SONA system for one week. If more than three separate cases are identified, the researcher will be denied access to the SONA system for the remainder of the semester.

Before participating in research, each potential participant must read and sign an informed consent form (unless this requirement has been waived by the IRB). After participation, each participant must be debriefed (unless this has been waived by the IRB).

Additional considerations when using SONA are as follows:

  1. Research participation may be offered as one means of earning extra credit in any psychology course, at the instructor's discretion. Research participation may be included as a course requirement (with suitable alternatives) in PSY 111 and PSY 231.
  2. If applicable, research participation opportunities or requirements (and alternatives) must be outlined clearly in the course syllabus. Credit for research participation, or its alternatives, should account for no more than 10% of a student's course grade. To avoid any possibility of indirect coercion, instructors including research participation for extra or course credit must also provide their students with reasonable alternatives to research participation, which should be approximately equivalent in both time and effort. In addition, instructors must not make special announcements about their own studies or offer additional incentives for students to participate in their own research project. As part of SONA, instructors will receive information about how often their students signed up for studies, as well as how often they did or did not show up for those studies. As per departmental policy, instructors may not penalize their students failing to show up to studies.
  3. Prior to participation in any research, participants will read a statement about their rights on the informed consent for the research and will consent to participate by providing their signature.
  4. SONA, as managed by the Department of Psychology, is reserved for use by faculty and students affiliated with the Department of Psychology. Occasionally, individuals not affiliated with the department may be granted permission to use SONA for research that is of a psychological nature. Any individuals not affiliated with the department who wish to use SONA to conduct psychological research must involve an Illinois State psychology faculty member as a collaborator or supervisor. The purpose of this requirement is to ensure that a local contact person is available to handle any questions or problems that arise as the research is being conducted.
  5. SONA offers the option of recruiting for paid studies as part of their service; however, department policy does not allow for this practice.

Recruiting Participants using Methods Other than the Psychology Participant Pool

Researchers may use a number of recruitment methods other than the psychology participant pool. For example, researchers may use recruitment methods such as MTurk, Qualtrics Panel Services, and the ISU mass email. The process of obtaining IRB approval for projects involving these recruitment methods are largely similar to those recruiting through the department participant pool. One issue frequently encountered with these methods, however, concerns payment to participants. Information on the use of research incentives such as gift cards and direct payment to participants has been approved with the comptroller's office. Details can be found at

Cases involving failure to meet these and all relevant ethical guideline will be referred to the IRB. Such proceedings may involve the appearance of all those involved before the IRB.