Readability of Written Informed Consent Forms Used in Exercise and Sport Psychology Research

Article excerpt

Exercise and sport psychology researchers have an ethical responsibility to inform potential research participants about the nature of their involvement (American Psychological Association [APA], 1992). This responsibility is fulfilled through the informed-consent process (National Science Foundation [NSF], 1994). The goal of informed consent is to insure that research participants have the necessary information to make a truly informed decision regarding their involvement (Olivier, 1995). Accordingly, informed decision-making presumes a comprehending participant and consent without comprehension cannot be viewed as informed.

Federal regulations (NSF, 1994) state that informed-consent forms should be easily understood. One way to measure the potential for understanding is by assessing a form's readability (Handelsman, Kemper, Kesson-Craig, McLain, & Johnsrud, 1986). Readability refers to the ease with which a text can be read and understood (Doak, Doak, & Root, 1985) and is related to comprehension and inclination of the reader to continue reading (Fry, 1989). Although readable forms do not guarantee understanding, they do enhance the potential for understanding (Handelsman et al., 1986).

Empirical evidence on the readability of informed-consent forms is not encouraging (Hammerschmidt & Keane, 1992; Handelsman et al., 1986; Young, Hooker, & Freeberg, 1990). For example, Handelsman et al. found that 16 informed consent forms used in clinical psychology practice were written at a level equivalent to an academically oriented journal article. Within the exercise and sport psychology domain, this area has not been systematically studied. It has, however, received anecdotal attention (Albrecht, Anderson, McGrew, McKeag, & Hough, 1992; Kroll, 1993). For example, Albrecht et al. stated that "the consent forms used by institutions may be written at a much higher grade level than the typical undergraduate student-athlete is capable of understanding or reading" (p. 246). Handelsman and Galvin (1988) have suggested that psychologists write informed-consent forms at the fourth-grade reading level. Young et al. (1990) suggested that informed consent forms be written at the seventh- or eighth-grade reading level.

Because of the importance of readable consent forms, and evidence suggesting that researchers may use "unreadable" consent forms, this study was designed to assess the readability level of informed-consent forms used in exercise and sport psychology research. Additional objectives included characterizing the appearance of these forms and comparing the mean readability level of these forms with the eighth-grade reading level (i.e., the most liberal level recommended).


Unit of Analysis and Procedures

The actual informed-consent forms used by exercise and sport psychology researchers served as the unit of analysis. These forms were requested from 80 authors of 1992 research articles published in Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport (Psychology section; n = 5), Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology (n = 23), The Sport Psychologist (n = 19), Journal of Applied Sport Psychology (n = 3), the International Journal of Sport Psychology (n = 22), and Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (Psychobiology and Social Sciences section; n = 8).

The corresponding author was contacted in writing, apprised of the purpose of the study, and requested to participate by sending a copy of her or his informed-consent form. A self-addressed, postage-paid, return envelope was provided. After multiple mailings and telephone follow-ups, 56 responses were received (70%). Of the responses received, eight authors reported not using a written consent form, nine reported the form was lost, one did not want her or his form included in the study, and one author (with two different publications) sent in identical forms. Therefore, with the consent of the corresponding author, 37 (46. …