Posted by: Dorianne Cotter-Lockard | 30 January 2008

IRB (Institutional Review Board) Demystified……..

All academic research institutions in the US are required to have Institutional Review Boards (IRB’s) to ensure that research is conducted in an ethical manner and does no harm to the participants. I have just completed my first IRB application, because I wish to interview six people for my final in-depth Human Development and Consciousness knowledge area (KA) paper. Here’s the description of the research that I wrote for the application:

This research project was inspired by my KA702 overview reading assignment of Satprem’s Sri Aurobindo, or The Adventure of Consciousness (1968). Aurobindo contends that consciousness exists in a continuum and is independent of human existence, thought or feeling. There is no such thing as unconsciousness; only other consciousness. Satprem describes the planes of the mind that one encounters in seeking higher consciousness, including ordinary, higher, illumined, intuitive, overmind and supramental mind consciousness. He states there are several paths to higher consciousness, but meditation is the most common.

The final section of Satprem’s book discusses Aurobindo’s goal to evolve the human species to a new level of existence and physical being in order to save our species and our planet from extinction. Although this seems to be far-fetched, we already have documented evidence of mind over matter. Dr. Bruce Lipton, in his book, The Biology of Belief (2005) has spent the past 30 years researching DNA and how the mind can alter the behavior of our genes. Yogis and people who meditate regularly have been able to fast for months, consume poison without adverse affects and levitate their bodies. People reduce their blood-pressure and eliminate migraine headaches through biofeedback techniques. Mind-healing and prayer have been proven to heal cancer, multiple sclerosis and other diseases.

My interest for this project is to understand the experience of these higher planes of consciousness during and after meditation. I have had my own experiences through meditation practices and I wish to add narratives related to other meditators’ experience. I plan to compare the narratives with each other and with Western and non-Western consciousness theories.

Filling out the paperwork was not as daunting as I had imagined. I had to describe my research design in detail, which was the hardest part, since I’m just a newby at research. I had to repeatedly state the methods I would use to communicate with my research participants, how I would ensure they were participating voluntarily and to identify any potential harm that could ensue from their participation.

This is what I stated regarding recruiting participants:

Recruitment will be through phone calls and emails directly to the participants. The purpose and approach of the study will be described, the inclusion criteria will be discussed and if the potential participant meets the criteria, I will explain to them that their participation is entirely voluntary. Then, I will ask them if they would like to volunteer for the study. Prior to the interview, I will send them the consent form and at the interview, I will again review that their participation is voluntary.

This is one of several statements regarding the interview process:

The interviews will be audio-taped and then transcribed. The transcripts will then be reviewed by participants and the tapes destroyed once participants have approved the transcripts. Email will be used to recruit participants from a pool of colleagues and friends who meditate on a regular basis. Email will also be used to send transcripts and notes to participants for their review and comment prior to the analysis. Email will be used, if requested to send participants the final summary of results.

Here’s what I said about minimizing negative impacts to participants:

The participants will remain anonymous and at the time of disclosure, I will remind participants that they can withdraw from the study at any time. The participants will review the transcript of the interviews and can comment and request changes of the transcript or request to delete a portion of the interview if they believe that disclosing the information in a publication would harm them.

This is what I said about how the benefits outweigh the risks:

The focus of this study is to capture the lived experience of those who meditate and reach higher states of consciousness. The benefit of this research is to provide a deeper understanding of human consciousness experiences. This research will add another dimension, the human experiential dimension, to current neuroscience research on brain activity during meditation. The risk listed above is considered to be minimal, as the participants are known to me and are generally committed to lifting humanity’s consciousness to higher levels through their meditation practices and other life activities.

This is what I said about protecting the anonymity of the participants:

I may transcribe the data myself. If I elect to use a transcriptionist, s/he will be required to sign a Research Assistant Confidentiality Agreement. Once the tapes have been transcribed and the transcriptions reviewed by the participants, the tapes will be destroyed. A pseudonym will be assigned to each interview narrative and irrelevant identifying data removed. Data relating to the participant’s profession will be generalized to protect anonymity. The transcripts will be retained until I have completed my doctoral program at Fielding University.

Lipton, B. H. (2005). The biology of belief: unleashing the power of consciousness, matter and miracles (1st ed.). Santa Rosa, CA: Mountain of Love/Elite Books.

Satprem. (1968). Sri Aurobindo: or, The adventure of consciousness (1st U.S. ed.). New York: Harper & Row.



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