Dealing With “Bad Participants”: Strategies for Protecting Data Quality


What happens when you encounter a “difficult participant”? As a researcher, it would be our dream if our research methods courses, undergraduate or graduate, would provide us with every possible scenario that we would encounter and provide us with specific strategies that would remedy complicated situations with participants. The reality is that this will not happen, so it is important to know how to identify and deal with these problematic participants. Dealing with difficult participants is not a new thing in research but, especially as new researchers, we may expect that our participants are always willing to participate in a completely altruistic fashion and that they come to the research setting ready to participate with a positive attitude. Yet, in many instances, participants want an “in & out,” quick study so they may receive the incentive offered for participating in the study or go about their daily lives as quickly as possible, with very little knowledge as to the potential effects their behavior may have on the data being collected. This in turn leads us to find that bad participants (i.e., those who may be providing you with bad data) are typically encountered during data collection session, and the bad data they provide may have strong negative effects on our results. Thus, it is important for novice and experienced researchers to understand how to deal with problematic participants and how they can facilitate participation during the data collection process even with a particularly difficult participant.

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