Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Deception of children in research
  1. Merle Spriggs1,
  2. Lynn Gillam2
  1. 1Hearing, Language & Literacy, Population Health, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute/Children's Bioethics Centre, Centre for Health & Society, School of Population Health, University of Melbourne. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
  2. 2Children's Bioethics Centre, Royal Children's Hospital, Centre for Health & Society, School of Population Health, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Merle Spriggs, Hearing, Language & Literacy, Population Health, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. Parkville, VIC 3052, Australia; merle.spriggs{at}


The aim of this article is to draw attention to an under-recognised but ethically important phenomenon involving the deception of children in research. The type of deception we are referring to is not planned deception that is part of the research design. Instead it is deception that occurs in individual cases where parents ask researchers not to reveal something about the research to their child. Our focus is children who do not have ultimate decisional authority—children around the ages of 7–14 years old who may have the cognitive capacity to understand but not to consent for themselves; children whose agreement is required but not sufficient to authorise research. We provide three illustrative scenarios for analysis. Then, we identify circumstances in which non-disclosure might be justified and set out reasons why providing information to non-competent children is ethically required. On this basis, we argue that non-planned deception requested by parents is very unlikely to be ethically acceptable. Finally, we recommend that guidelines should (a) require researchers to consider what to do if parents do not want to disclose information to a child and (b) clarify that the most ethical response is to simply not include that child in the research.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

Linked Articles