Motives of contributing personal data for health research: (non-)participation in a Dutch biobank

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BACKGROUND: Large-scale, centralized data repositories are playing a critical and unprecedented role in fostering innovative health research, leading to new opportunities as well as dilemmas for the medical sciences. Uncovering the reasons as to why citizens do or do not contribute to such repositories, for example, to population-based biobanks, is therefore crucial. We investigated and compared the views of existing participants and non-participants on contributing to large-scale, centralized health research data repositories with those of ex-participants regarding the decision to end their participation. This comparison could yield new insights into motives of participation and non-participation, in particular the behavioural change of withdrawal.

METHODS: We conducted 36 in-depth interviews with ex-participants, participants, and non-participants of a three-generation, population-based biobank in the Netherlands. The interviews focused on the respondents' decision-making processes relating to their participation in a large-scale, centralized repository for health research data.

RESULTS: The decision of participants and non-participants to contribute to the biobank was motivated by a desire to help others. Whereas participants perceived only benefits relating to their participation and were unconcerned about potential risks, non-participants and ex-participants raised concerns about the threat of large-scale, centralized public data repositories and public institutes, such as social exclusion or commercialization. Our analysis of ex-participants' perceptions suggests that intrapersonal characteristics, such as levels of trust in society, participation conceived as a social norm, and basic societal values account for differences between participants and non-participants.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings indicate the fluidity of motives centring on helping others in decisions to participate in large-scale, centralized health research data repositories. Efforts to improve participation should focus on enhancing the trustworthiness of such data repositories and developing layered strategies for communication with participants and with the public. Accordingly, personalized approaches for recruiting participants and transmitting information along with appropriate regulatory frameworks are required, which have important implications for current data management and informed consent procedures.

Original languageEnglish
Article number62
Pages (from-to)62-73
Number of pages11
JournalBmc medical ethics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25-Jul-2020


  • Biomedical research
  • Biobanks
  • Motives
  • Participation
  • Non-participation
  • Risks
  • Trust
  • CARE

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