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The Altruism–Clinical Trial Participation Disconnect Illuminates Opportunity

Altruism and Clinical Trials: A Survey of Adults 18-Plus

Leaving the world a better place is highly important to U.S. adults, yet that strong current of altruism doesn't necessarily translate to strong participation in clinical trials, according to a recent AARP survey. Still, with the findings come possibilities for turning the potentially powerful altruism into greater participation.

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A useful tool for engaging more people in clinical trials may involve tapping into the prevalence of generativity, or concern for future generations, the survey suggests. Importantly, those 50 and older who have greater than average generativity scores were the most willing to participate in a clinical trial.

All adults (18 and older) revealed a strong sense of wanting to leave the world a better place. And 63% said helping other people was a motivator for participating in a clinical trial. Helping others as a motivator increased to 75% if the person had already participated in a clinical trial.

Still, for most people, enrolling in clinical trials comes down to personal choice — done for personal benefit, to treat a condition they have, or because there are no other treatment options. Risks, lack of information, and the potential for getting sick were the biggest factors for not participating.

Messaging and Recruitment

There is room for education and improved recruiting, the study found. Only about one-fifth of U.S. adults ages 18 and older are familiar with clinical trials, but roughly 60% would participate if asked. Notably, the percentage who are extremely or very likely to participate in a clinical trial increases 13 percentage points with a doctor's recommendation.

For that reason, the researchers suggest turning to doctors' offices and perhaps urgent care facilities to disseminate information about clinical trials. Important participation factors are the ability of adults to locate trial opportunities as well as feeling confident in how the process works.

Clinical Trials and Altruism

When someone, or someone in their household, has participated in a clinical trial, people are more likely to exhibit other altruistic behaviors, the study found. For instance, 67% also donated goods or clothes to charity, 58% helped an older or disabled stranger cross a street, and 56% made charitable financial contributions.

There is wide agreement among U.S. adults that it is important to improve the lives of future generations, with 77% strongly agreeing that it is important to leave a better world behind for future generations.


The Altruism and Clinical Trials study was conducted by ANR Market Research Consultants for AARP among a sample of U.S. adults ages 18 and older. A total of 1,222 completed interviews were conducted from April 25 to May 14, 2023 by phone, averaging 17 minutes in English and 22 minutes in Spanish. There were also oversamples of African American/Black U.S. adults ages 18-plus (n=405) and Hispanic/Latino U.S. adults ages 18-plus (n=409).

Suggested Citation:

Keenan, Teresa A. and Chuck Rainville. Altruism and Clinical Trials: A Survey of Adults 18-PlusWashington, DC: AARP Research, July 2023.