Original Research

Brain Imaging and Behavior

, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 163-176

First online:

Volunteerism and self-selection bias in human positron emission tomography neuroimaging research

  • Lynn M. OswaldAffiliated withDepartment of Family and Community Health, University of Maryland School of NursingDepartment of Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University School of MedicineUniversity of Maryland School of Nursing Email author 
  • , Gary S. WandAffiliated withDepartment of Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University School of MedicineDepartment of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
  • , Shijun ZhuAffiliated withOffice of Research, University of Maryland School of Nursing
  • , Victoria SelbyAffiliated withDepartment of Family and Community Health, University of Maryland School of Nursing

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Scientists have known for decades that persons who volunteer for behavioral research may be different from those who decline participation and that characteristics differentiating volunteers from non-volunteers may vary depending on the nature of the research. There is evidence that volunteer self-selection can impact representativeness of samples in studies involving physically or psychologically stressful procedures, such as electric shocks, sensory isolation, or drug effects. However, the degree to which self-selection influences sample characteristics in “stressful” studies involving positron emission tomography (PET) has not been evaluated. Since estimation of population parameters, robustness of findings, and validity of inferred relationships can all be impacted by volunteer bias, it is important to determine if self-selection may act as an unrecognized confound in such studies. In the present investigation, we obtained baseline data on 114 (56M, 58F) subjects who participated in a study involving completion of several self-report questionnaires and behavioral performance tasks. Participants were later given the opportunity to enroll in an [11C]raclopride PET study involving intravenous amphetamine (AMPH) administration. Demographic characteristics, personality traits, and task performance of subjects who consented to the latter study were compared with those who declined participation. Findings showed that the principal personality trait that distinguished the two groups was sensation-seeking; volunteers scored significantly higher on this dimension than non-volunteers. Males were more likely to volunteer than females. However, results of mediation analysis suggested that the relationship between gender and volunteer status was mediated by greater sensation-seeking traits in the males. Implications of these findings are discussed.


Positron emission tomography (PET) Human Volunteerism Personality Sensation-seeking Gender