What Is an IRB and Why Is It important?

Here is an excerpt from our discussion of IRBs in Neuromarketing for Dummies:

Many research subject protections are mandated by law in most nations, but only for government-sponsored research. In the United States, policies for federally-funded human subjects research are specified by the Department of Health and Human Services. These policies require that all research involving human subjects be conducted under the approval of an institutional review board (IRB). Policies the IRB must approve (and re-approve annually) include:

  • Procedures for acquiring informed consent of participants
  • Provisions for ensuring subject information confidentiality
  • Explicit protocols for dealing with incidental findings (medical conditions discovered in a subject as a byproduct of data collection)

Although federally-funded scientists working in academic, government, or commercial settings have a legal responsibility to obtain informed consent and protect the privacy of their human research subjects, these legal requirements may not apply to private neuromarketing firms that do not employ federally-funded staff or engage in federally-funded research. In such cases, we believe the neuromarketing firm still has an ethical obligation to offer equivalent levels of protection. The best way to do this is to acquire independent review board approval for research procedures and data protection policies (many independent review boards can be commissioned to provide the appropriate level of review for commercial, for-profit research entities).

IRB requirements are very detailed, and submissions can run to hundreds of pages of documentation. However, this should be considered a cost of doing business by neuromarketing vendors. Failure to have IRB approval is a sign that a neuromarketing firm may not be serious about its commitment to the highest research standards and ethics.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd., from Chapter 22 of Neuromarketing For Dummies, Stephen Genco, Andrew Pohlmann, Peter Steidl.  Copyright © 2013 by John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd.