Ethics – Human Case Study (2010) - Optimal Performance

Mon, 2012-02-27 10:40 -- pwhippey

Description of the Project

Students worked with phys-ed teachers in school to determine if optimal mental and physical fitness levels occurred before school (8 a.m.) or after school. (3:30 p.m.). Student participants were given an informed consent / permission form. Participants were to return with the consent form signed by their parents as well as themselves. They were tested on five attributes: memory, coordination, reaction time, muscle endurance, and cardiovascular endurance.

The first three tests (memory, coordination, reaction time) fall under the category of minimal risk skill tests. The memory test was done by showing the participants a series of flash cards with illustrations and asking them, after a time, to recite back the pictures they had seen. The coordination test was done by having participants stand three feet from the gymnasium wall, underhand toss a tennis ball at the wall and then catch it without dropping the ball. This was repeated until a catch was missed. The reaction time test was done using a computer program on which there was a blank screen, and when it changed colour, the volunteer had to click the mouse button. The computer determined the time between the colour change and the mouse click.

This request for ruling concerns the final two tests - the muscle and cardiovascular endurance tests. In both cases, volunteers were asked to do routine physical tests - push-ups for the muscle endurance, and jumping jacks for the cardiovascular endurance. Volunteers were instructed to stop when they became tired. Phys-ed teachers were present during the testing. Endurance was quantified by the number of pushups/jumping jacks completed.

We have filled out the documentation for a project involving significant risk to humans (4.1B) as part of the registration for CWSF 2010. The students went through the process of writing a proposal and submitting it for ethics review, drafting an informed consent letter, informing all the volunteers and their parents (all the volunteers were high school aged students in their cohort), making sure there were supervisors onsite during all their testing. We (the region) approved the proposal after requesting and confirming several changes (elements of ingestion and sleep deprivation were initially part of the project), and after consulting both the girls’ phys-ed teacher at the school and a personal trainer who works at the school to be supervisors. The final iteration of the project was carried out in the school's phys-ed facilities, and not a licensed research institution, and we allowed it at the Regina RSF because they had followed all the ethics requirements. We did not believe that making the girls run their experiment in a fitness “lab” (if indeed such could be found) would have decreased any potential risk to the volunteers, especially in light of who the school happened to have on staff (the personal trainer) and also because jumping jacks and push-ups, under their experimental protocol, did not represent a risk any greater than any activity that the volunteers normally perform in their phys-ed classes.

We (the region) just want to be sure that this will not be an issue for CWSF 2010. The policy (4.1.1, section 3.3) states that "significant risk projects, [are] often carried out in a research laboratory licensed to do suchstudies," and our ethics committee ruled that the word "often" meant that the licensed research laboratory was not needed in all cases, and that this particular project would not benefit by making it a requirement.


Advice or Ruling

This project has been thoroughly screened and vetted by the Ethics Committee of the Regional Science Fair. It involves students doing exercises at school, supervised by qualified teachers. All appropriate permissions have been obtained. The Youth Science Canada Ethics Committee is please to confirm that this project is eligible to participate in the CWSF.

Your Project

If your proposed science fair project involves the participation of humans or the use of animals,

Visit the Ethics web page so as to become familiar with the policies.
Fill in the Request for Advice or a Ruling.
Submit it to the Ethics Committee of your Regional Science Fair.


These case studies summarize interesting examples of science fair projects involving humans or animals submitted to the Youth Science Canada National Ethics Committee for review. A brief description of the proposed project is given, along with the ruling given by the Ethics Committee. Some details may have been changed in the descriptions so that the original source cannot be identified. The ethical challenges described have not been changed.


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on

I'd be interested in seeing more studies on using weight training with the goal of weight loss.  The research indicates resistance training and cardiovascular exercise is more effective than cardiovascular training alone.  I didn't really learn much about weight training through my physical education classes.  It wasn't until I started training for sports that I was introduced to it. I know there would be safety issues with this as well as the potential for injuries and lawsuits.  But I think physical education is incomplete without training in one of the most benefitial forms of exercises.  Teachers could train students in proper form to ensure safety.  If done properly, resistance training could decrease the number of sports-related injuries. Students would increase their confidence and self-esteem, which would have a positive impact on other aspects of their lives.  We know teenagers who are involved in something positive are much less likely to get into trouble. Some students might just pick up the habit of training in the gym and keep it for life.  Doing so would reduce their chances of getting many preventable diseases (such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc).