Does it hurt to ask? A meta-analysis of participant reactions to trauma research

Anna E. Jaffe, David DiLillo, Lesa Hoffman, Michelle Haikalis, Rita E. Dykstra

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

119 Scopus citations


Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) are sometimes hesitant to approve trauma-related research due to concerns that asking participants about traumatic experiences will induce extreme distress. Despite the growing empirical literature examining participants' reactions to trauma-related research, no quantitative reviews have been conducted. The present multilevel meta-analysis was undertaken to quantify: (1) how participants react to trauma-related research overall; (2) to what extent reactions to trauma-related research differ by participant characteristics, including personal history of trauma, PTSD symptoms, and gender; and (3) to what extent (a) type of traumatic experience and (b) mode of administration moderate these effects. Studies examining adult participants' reactions to trauma assessments in the context of research were included. Results from 73,959 participants across 70 samples suggest that although trauma-related research can lead to some immediate psychological distress, this distress is not extreme. This distress is greater for individuals with a trauma history or PTSD, particularly in studies involving interviews. However, individuals generally find research participation to be a positive experience and do not regret participation, regardless of trauma history or PTSD. There were no gender differences in reactions. Present findings, which suggest that trauma-related research can continue without harming participants, may help inform IRB decisions on trauma research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)40-56
Number of pages17
JournalClinical Psychology Review
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015


  • Ethics
  • Multilevel meta-analysis
  • PTSD
  • Research participation
  • Trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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