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An Analysis of the Ecological Theory of Research
Participation Applied to a Sample of Young
Adult Males

By: Lisa M. Soler, RN and Adriana Ramirez | Mentor: Dr. Michael J. Rovito

Recommendations Based on Applying the Ecological Theory

In the past, attrition has been accounted for through the use of oversampling to anticipate an expected drop-out rate of thirty percent (Ribisl et al, 1996). Statistical methods, such as Intention to Treat Analysis, can recover some missing data (Marcellus, 2004). The aforementioned strategies anticipate attrition will occur and therefore attempt to address it. On the other hand, the ETRP provides strategies for preventing attrition altogether. Observations concerning the effectiveness of the ETRP will be elaborated on.

Marcellus's model endorses participant convenience as a major theme to prevent attrition. Observations from the TSE study contradict this strategy. The central focus of the TSE study revolved around convenience for all participants. However, we believe this contributed to the problem. While convenience should be considered, structure should be superior. An overabundance of ease opens the door to non-response attrition. Technology that decreases face-to-face interactions added to this deficiency in structure. Our recommendation to minimize this issue is to add structure in the form of periodical face-to-face meeting requirements.

Per the ETRP recommendation, part of the structured system should include incentives at multiple phases in the study. These incentives should encourage participants to remain in the study to receive additional enticements. Providing a reward enhances participants' desire to complete the study.

Relatedly, the ETRP also supports participant recognition and appreciation from research teams. We believe this to be one of the most important aspects in retaining participants. By making participants aware of their contribution to the study, one may increase the likelihood of follow-through and completion. However, Marcellus does not account for studies that are limited in funding, as was the TSE study. If funding is not readily available through grants, we urge investigators to raise their own funds because inadequate incentives can be detrimental. We would not recommend incentivizing through a single grand prize, as this excludes all other participants. In addition, incentives should not be given prior to the performance of the desired activity. Rather, incentives should be given after receiving the required documentation of activity completion.

We are concerned that continuance of behavior will cease once incentives have stopped, which is problematic, as we are attempting to alter long-term behaviors. Therefore, on the one hand, incentives increase likelihood of participation in the study but, on the other hand, it decreases the likelihood of adherence post-study after they are no longer offered. This is to say, the incentive to perform the behavior will lose its monetary value and is to be wholly defined by increased wellness and probable longevity. This may be a hard sell to younger participants.

Finally, the social environment of participants should be assessed and taken into account. The ETRP model fails to take this into account, but it can be a major influence on attrition, as was evident in the TSE study. For instance, we believe the social environment in college life to be particularly influential, especially when coupled with a sensitive topic. Stereotypes of masculinity are especially prominent in college environments. Furthermore, within this environment, the pressures of being in a club, such as with fraternities, may increase the resistance to this type of study. The problem therefore lies outside of the researcher's direct control. We recommend the social environment not be ignored; it should be accounted for on a case-by-case basis.

Consideration for Future Studies

The problem of attrition is not one to be overlooked or simply accepted and compensated for, but rather, it should be anticipated and prevented whenever possible. Additionally, it is imperative that any observed attrition be reported to assist future researchers and to raise awareness of the issue. In the TSE study, much of the ETRP was applied (specifically, the study and researcher levels). Even so, difficulties arose due to the inadequate application of the participant and environment levels. It is crucial that all four layers be equally utlized, as this balance will result in the ideal participant centered approach, which is key to preventing attrition.

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