Researchers asked 297 college students at George Mason Univeristy to agree to participate in a study involving a dietary supplement that might improve memory. Students were either told that the investigator was an employee of the company, that he was an employee and consultant, or that he was an employee and a patent holder.
The study found that the willingness to participate was not affected by these three different conflict of interest disclosures. However, the study did find that students who rated the investigator as more trustworthy were more likely to agree to participate, but that the evaluation of trustworthiness was not influenced by the extent of the investigatorâ€™s financial stake. On the other hand, cash on the barrelhead matters. Students who were told they would receive $20 were significantly more likely to want to participate than students offered no money.
â€œIf replicated, these findings could affect the way in which clinical study disclosure requirements are established and implemented,â€ says Greg Guagnano, a sociology and anthropology professor at GMU, and co-author.
â€œThere are a number of reasons to mandate disclosures, but this study suggests that disclosure of conflicts may not play a large role in decision-making," says the other author, Jeff Gibbs, a lawyer with Hyman, Phelps & McNamara. "Given that some courts have reached decisions based on their believing that knowledge of a financial stake would actually change peopleâ€™s behavior, this study shows that courts need to rely on facts, not assumptions.â€
Curiously, the press release we received by e-mail failed to disclose that Gibbs' law firm represents many drugmakers.