Inform the uninformed: Improving Online Informed Consent Reading with an AI-Powered Chatbot

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Informed consent is a core cornerstone of ethics in human subject research. Through the informed consent process, participants learn about the study procedure, benefits, risks, and more to make an informed decision. However, recent studies showed that current practices might lead to uninformed decisions and expose participants to unknown risks, especially in online studies. Without the researcher’s presence and guidance, online participants must read a lengthy form on their own with no answers to their questions. In this paper, we examined the role of an AI-powered chatbot in improving informed consent online. By comparing the chatbot with form-based interaction, we found the chatbot improved consent form reading, promoted participants’ feelings of agency, and closed the power gap between the participant and the researcher. Our exploratory analysis further revealed the altered power dynamic might eventually benefit study response quality. We discussed design implications for creating AI-powered chatbots to offer effective informed consent in broader settings.