What is scientific research and why is it important?

Briefly put, scientific research is the process of asking questions and looking for answers in a ‘systematic’ way. This means that researchers first define a relevant problem that needs investigating, and then follow a series of steps to ensure that the answers are reliable and can be replicated by others in the future.

Research is a continuous process: constantly building on our past knowledge and discoveries, taking advantage of the latest technological innovations, and laying the ground for future studies. In mental health, scientific research is required to understand the causes of mental disorders and to develop evidence-based interventions that are both effective and safe.

There are many different types of research projects, so make sure to check the details of each study. Some might need participants to complete a short online questionnaire, while others could take longer and require participants to attend one (or more) face-to-face assessments. Other research projects might involve taking part in testing the effectiveness of novel medical or psychological treatments (these are called ‘clinical trials’).


Who can take part in research?

We embrace diversity and are committed to a research environment welcoming to all, irrespective of lifestyle choices, ethnicity, faith, and gender orientation and identity. Everybody is welcome to participate. We strongly believe that all people have the potential to contribute to research.

It is important to remember that research projects often have conditions for entry. For example, studies might be looking for people of a certain age, or a certain health condition. These conditions for entry depend on each study’s objectives. Many of our research focus on young people and mental health, but this is not always the case. Please make sure to check each study for the specific participation requirements.


Will I be compensated for participating in research?

We make the highest efforts to ensure that participants are fairly compensated for their time. The compensation depends on the nature of the study, so please make sure to check the details for each study. Often, studies do not provide a direct benefit for participants.

In all cases, your participation will contribute to advancing our understanding of mental disorders and/or developing more effective treatments, which could benefit you and other young individuals. Sometimes, the information gathered during research can improve the quality of mental care you are currently receiving. In such case, you will be given the choice to share this information with your mental health care team.


Are there risks in participating in research?

Taking part in research is a safe activity, conducted under supervision of health professionals. Importantly, all our studies must receive ethical approval by an independent committee.

Still, no study is completely free of potential risks. Novel medical interventions tested in clinical trials might cause some unpleasant side-effects for some people. This is also the case for medication already used in real-world treatments. It is important to remember that every treatment being tested in research has undergone very rigorous studies to ensure its safety.

More commonly, studies involve doing things that some people could find unpleasant or inconvenient. Common examples include: having to travel to where research will take place, having to fill lengthy questionnaires, being asked personal questions by researchers, or undergoing medical tests (for example, brain scans). What might be unpleasant or inconvenient for some, might not be for others. What is more, some people might find some of these interesting (like having a brain scan) or alleviating (such as talking to someone about things that worry us).

Make sure to go through the details of each study to learn about potential risks. Importantly, once the study begins procedures are in place to quickly respond to any situation that could emerge. Also, efforts are made to accommodate any individual participant’s circumstances and preferences.

Do not hesitate to contact us regarding any risk-related inquiry or doubt.


My rights?

Listen to Dr. Thom Spencer talk about your rights as a research participant.

Research projects recruiting participants have all received ethical approval by an independent ethics committee. In fact, studies involving participants cannot begin without ethical approval. This is a very strict review process to ensure that the safety, comfort and confidentiality of participants are protected. Additionally, each study must have the potential of making a significant or relevant contribution to science. This ensures that your time as a research participant will be adequately spent.

Prior to enrollment, you have the right to receive complete and easy-to-understand information about the study. This is available in the ‘Participant Information Sheet’. This information should cover the study’s objectives and rationale, potential risks, and how data will be used and protected, among others. This information allows each person to make the free and informed decision to be involved in the study or not. Each participant is therefore asked to give their informed consent prior to being enrolled in research.

As a research participant you are also entitled to confidentiality across all stages of the study (see next question). After enrollment, you have the right to withdraw from the study at any time, without any immediate or future consequence.


What happens with my information if I agree to participate?

We make the highest efforts to ensure the confidentiality and safety of all data obtained during research. Confidentiality of information is a common concern for participants. This is completely understandable, as research often involve providing sensitive and personal information. Because of this, protecting confidentiality is key to building a relationship of trust between researchers and participants.

Your participation in any given research project will be kept confidential. Our researchers are professionals with extensive training and experience in working with sensitive data in both academic and clinical settings.

Our researchers adher to the UK Data Protection Act 2018, which applies to all information gathered during research and held on password-locked computer files within our research labs. Confidentiality is ensured across all stages. All the information you provide as a research participant is treated with strict confidentiality and is held secure until the research project is completed. The data is also anonymized so that it cannot be tracked down to any individual person. Data obtained in research might be published in scientific journals or other mediums (e.g. reports, posters). Confidentiality of all published data is ensured. In some cases, data can be stored to be used in future studies. In such case, you will be informed before agreeing to participate.

Please make sure to read each study’s Participant Information Sheet, for information on how data will be used. Do not hesitate to contact us for any question regarding data confidentiality.


Are brain scans safe?

Studies might involve studying brain’s structure and function using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology. During an MRI scan, participants are asked to lie inside an MRI scan (a short cylinder that is open at both ends). Scans can last from 15 to 90 minutes.

The MRI procedure is safe and painless, and there are no known health risks involved. No radiation is involved. MRI scans are widely used in medical practice and research. All MRI scans are performed by trained professionals with extensive experience.

Some people find being inside an MRI scanner a bit unpleasant. A member of the research team will be in contact with you during the scan, and this can be stopped at any time if you feel uncomfortable. Also, during operation, the MRI scan makes loud noises. Headphones or earplugs are provided to reduce the noise to comfortable levels.

Additionally, you will have the option to experience what a brain scan is like, by a going through a mock MRI scanner in the first place. The mock MRI scanner simulates the real experience - it even looks and sounds like the real one - but is not operational. This is usually very helpful for people who might feel anxious or hesitant to take part in a brain scan.

What is it like to have a brain scan?

This video has been funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London.

Learn more about our neuroimaging facilities here.

Do not hesitate to contact us for any question or concern you might have regarding brain scans.


Who will I meet?

Dr. Paolo Fusar-Poli talks about the different type of people you might meet as a research participant.



Listen to Dr. Paolo Fusar-Poli explaining where the research assessments will take place. Our research team is based in the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), located at King's College London's Denmark Hill Campus (South London).


How long?

Dr. Stefania Tognin explains the different actions we take to make sure participants are comfortable during research visits.