Verbal /visual learning style preference and comprehension of informed consent material in research involving human subjects




Owen, Lynda

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The purpose of this exploratory study was to determine whether visual or verbal learning style preference influenced comprehension of information in an informed consent document for research. Convenience sampling was used to obtain a study sample (n = 84) of female college students enrolled in undergraduate health-related courses. Verbal and visual learning preference was determined for each participant using the Verbal and Visual Learning Style questionnaire (Kirby, et al., 1988). Participants were asked to read a sample consent form, which was adapted from an IRB-approved longitudinal research study on the status of women's health across the lifespan. In addition, demographic data were collected and responses were solicited for suggestions to make the consent form easier to understand. Finally, the participants completed a multiple-choice test to assess their comprehension of the informed consent material. Overall comprehension of the consent form was 72%. There were no significant correlations between comprehension scores and age, ethnicity, education level, or academic major. In addition, there was no significant difference between comprehension scores for those reporting they had previously signed a research consent form versus those who had never signed a consent form. Comprehension scores for verbal learners (n = 20) and visual learners (n = 54) were not significantly different. Pearson r was significant (p = .05) for visual score and comprehension score, though accounting for less than 5% of the total variance. Using a standard multiple regression analysis, a small though significant predictive relationship was found between visual learning style score and comprehension score (r = .214, p = .05). A taxonomic analysis of responses to the research question revealed two major themes: (1) elements of the consent form perceived as barriers to understanding and (2) suggestions for additions or changes that would aid understanding. Examples of barriers to understanding included the length of the document, complexity of wording, and sentence structure. Participants suggested the inclusion of visual aids, definitions, and explanations along with changes in formatting as ways to improve understanding. In conclusion, learning style preference may affect comprehension of written informed consent material and this area of research deserves further exploration.



Health and environmental sciences, Education, Comprehension, Human subjects, Informed consent, Learning style, Research ethics, Verbal learning style, Visual learning style