Study explores differences in payments between biomedical and sociobehavioral research

Compared to sociobehavioral studies, biomedical studies typically require more time and visits, tend to be more quantitative, more in-person, and of greater risk

February 12, 2021
Author: Iqbal Pittalwala
February 12, 2021

A study led by Brandon Brown at the UCR School of Medicine that sought to examine whether significant differences exist in payment amounts between sociobehavioral and biomedical studies and understand what may explain the differences has concluded that, on average, biomedical studies pay significantly more. Further, more biomedical studies offer payment than sociobehavioral studies, the study reports. 

Brandon Brown
Brandon Brown

Biomedical studies are often more well-funded compared to sociobehavioral studies. The number of study visits, study time, participation type, risk level, and research method were the main factors that explained the observed differences. 

Typically, researchers pay participants for expenses the latter incur through participation, for their time and effort, and for boosting and sustaining participation. The payments, however, raise ethical questions about undue inducement, coercion, and exploitation.

“There’s no inherent reason why certain studies should pay more than others, or at least no known reason for doing so,” said Brown, an associate professor in the Department of Social Medicine, Population, and Public Health. “The wide variation in payments could mean that payment decisions are made on a willy-nilly basis, or there could be some underlying reasons for the variation.”

The study, published in the Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics, reviewed 100 sociobehavioral and 31 biomedical protocols. Monetary payments in biomedical studies ranged from $0 to $2,880 (average $136); in sociobehavioral studies payment ranged from $0 to $225 (average $15.90). Sociobehavioral studies paying an average of 11.7% of biomedical studies.

“It makes sense that the more time a person spends in research, payment should increase to respect the time of the participant,” Brown said. “If one study is riskier than another, however, investigators may offer more money to participants to overcome the risk of participating. We should work to understand this more, or else we must accept the extreme case of paying people a lot of money to participate in a study that has a high risk of death.”

The study, which used UCR as its single study site, highlights the possible role of study risk or invasiveness in study payment decisions.

“From the participants’ point of view, they may be more willing to participate in a study which has a higher risk if the study pays more to overcome their fear of risk,” Brown said. “But we should be exploring that more and ask if money itself is enough of a benefit to overcome risk in research.”

The research paper is titled “Comparing Payments Between Sociobehavioral and Biomedical Studies in a Large Research University in Southern California.”