Ethical Considerations in Using Sensors to Remotely Assess Pediatric Health Behaviors

Alexandra M. Psihogios*, Sara King-Dowling, Jonathan A. Mitchell, Meghan E. McGrady, Ariel A. Williamson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Sensors, including accelerometer-based and electronic adherence monitoring devices, have transformed health data collection. Sensors allow for unobtrusive, real-time sampling of health behaviors that relate to psychological health, including sleep, physical activity, and medicationtaking. These technical strengths have captured scholarly attention, with far less discussion about the level of human touch involved in implementing sensors. Researchers face several subjective decision points when collecting health data via sensors, with these decisions posing ethical concerns for users and the public at large. Using examples from pediatric sleep, physical activity, and medication adherence research, we pose critical ethical questions, practical dilemmas, and guidance for implementing health-based sensors. We focus on youth given that they are often deemed the ideal population for digital health approaches but have unique technology-related vulnerabilities and preferences. Ethical considerations are organized according to Belmont principles of respect for persons (e.g., when sensor-based data are valued above the subjective lived experiences of youth and their families), beneficence (e.g., with sensor data management and sharing), and justice (e.g., with sensor access and acceptability among minoritized pediatric populations). Recommendations include the need to increase transparency about the extent of subjective decision making with sensor data management. Without greater attention to the human factors involved in sensor research, ethical risks could outweigh the scientific promise of sensors, thereby negating their potential role in improving child health and care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-51
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Psychologist
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2024


  • adherence
  • ethics
  • physical activity
  • sensors
  • sleep

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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