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Political Ideology, Confidence in Science, and Participation in Alzheimer Disease Research Studies

Gabel, Matthew, PhD*,†; Gooblar, Jonathan, PhD; Roe, Catherine M., PhD*,§; Selsor, Natalie J., MSW*; Morris, John C., MD*,§,∥,¶,#

Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders: July-September 2018 - Volume 32 - Issue 3 - p 179–184
doi: 10.1097/WAD.0000000000000244
Original Articles

Background: Americans’ confidence in science varies based on their political ideology. This ideological divide has potentially important effects on citizens’ engagement with and participation in clinical studies of Alzheimer disease (AD).

Methods: A probability sample of 1583 Americans was surveyed about their willingness to participate in longitudinal AD research and about their political attitudes. These survey results were compared with a survey of 382 participants in a longitudinal AD study at the Knight Alzheimer Disease Research Center.

Results: Among Americans, more conservative ideology decreases willingness to participate in a hypothetical longitudinal cohort study of AD both directly and through its negative effect on confidence in science. The Knight Alzheimer Disease Research Center study participants expressed more liberal ideology and greater confidence in science than Americans in general. Of the survey respondents opposed to participation, over a quarter changed to neutral or positive if the study returned their research results to them.

Conclusions and Relevance: Clinical studies of AD are likely biased toward participants who are more liberal and have higher confidence in science than the general population. This recruitment bias may be reduced by lowering the trust demanded of participants through measures such as returning research results to participants.

*Knight Alzheimer Disease Research Center

Departments of Political Science


Pathology and Immunology

Physical Therapy

#Occupational Therapy of the School of Medicine, Washington University, St. Louis, MO

Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA

C.M.R., N.J.S., M.G., J.C.M.: study concept and design. M.G. and J.G.: acquisition, analysis, and interpretation of data, drafting of manuscript. M.G., J.G., C.M.R., N.J.S., J.C.M.: critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content.

Supported by a Washington University Research Strategic Alliance Grant awarded to M.G. and J.C.M. J.C.M. receives research support from Eli Lilly/Avid Radiopharmaceuticals and is funded by NIH grants # P50AG005681; P01AG003991; P01AG026276 and UF01AG032438 from the National Institute of Aging.

J.C.M. is currently participating in clinical trials of antidementia drugs from Eli Lilly and Company, Biogen, and Janssen and serves as a consultant for Lilly USA. The remaining authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Reprints: Matthew Gabel, PhD, 1063, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130-4899 (e-mail:

Received August 2, 2017

Accepted December 19, 2017

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