Unit 4: Ethical Issues in Psychological Research

Describe ethical dilemmas in research that involves humans.
Ethical concerns about experimentation involving humans did not receive much attention until the 1960s. In psychology, several experiments were noted for their contribution as catalysts to the development of ethical guidelines for researchers using humans as research participants.

The most famous example is Stanley Milgram’s series of experiments on obedience. In Milgram’s experiments, research participants suffered tremendous mental stress for believing that they had inflicted pain on other people. They had unknowingly submitted themselves to the power of obedience to an authority.

Another classic example is the Stanford Prison Study (Haney, Banks, & Zimbardo, 1973; described in most introductory psychology textbooks; also available online at http://www.prisonexp.org). College student participants were asked to role-play either prisoner or guard in a highly realistic experiment. The participants got so involved in their roles that the study had to be terminated after only a few days because of a concern for the well-being of the participants.

Describe and illustrate the major ethical principles established by the American Psychological Association (APA) to guide psychologists in their research activities.
Principles include:

Minimal risk. Informed Consent. Confidentiality. Privacy. Deception. Debriefing. Use of Animals. Plagiarism.

(a. the researcher’s personal responsibility for making a careful assessment of the ethical acceptability of the research, taking into consideration scientific and humane values

b. a shared responsibility among all research team members

c. informed consent

d. use of deception only when justified

e. freedom to withdraw from participation

f. a clear and fair agreement between researcher and participants as to the responsibilities of each

g. protection from physical or mental stress
ensuring a positive experience (e.g., clarification of purpose of study at the end of study)

h.removal of any harmful consequences

i. confidentiality of information about participants)

Describe the hierarchy of four broad principles established by the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) to guide researchers in resolving complex ethical dilemmas in which basic ethical principles are in conflict.
a. Respect for the Dignity of Persons
b. Responsible Caring
c. Integrity in Relationships
d. Responsibility to Society

Principle 4: Responsibility to Society
Psychologists are morally obliged to consider their responsibilities to the broader society. This principle, however, should generally be given the lowest weight of the four principles when it is in conflict with one or more of them. This principle suggests that an ethical psychologist must contribute to the development of knowledge and the general welfare of society, and have respect for society.

Principle 3: Integrity in Relationships
This principle calls for honesty and forthrightness in all relationships with research participants, and is generally given the third highest weight.

Principle 2: Responsible Caring
An ethical psychologist has the obligation to respect the welfare of any individuals with whom the psychologist has a professional relationship, and, in particular, those in a more vulnerable position (e.g., research participants, students, and children). This principle is reflected in general caring, an appreciation of one’s competence and limitations, and attempts to maximize benefit, minimize harm, and offset/correct harm for research participants. This principle generally should be given the second highest weight.

Principle 1: Respect for the Dignity of Persons
In essence, each person should be treated as a person, not as an object. This broad principle is reflected in such principles as general respect, general rights, non-discrimination, fair treatment/due process, informed consent, freedom of consent, protection for vulnerable persons, right to privacy, and confidentiality.

Describe ethical guidelines for the use of animals in psychological research.
The American Psychological Association (2012), and in Canada, the Canadian Council on Animal Care (1993), have provided ethical guidelines for the treatment of research animals.

Standards are set for laboratory animal facilities, laboratory animal care, experimental animal surgical procedure, the use of anesthesia, and euthanasia.

These guidelines are to be followed by researchers affiliated with Athabasca University, as stated in the University’s Animal Care Policy (2004).

The issue of using animals in behavioural and biomedical research has stimulated heated debates and violent protests, and experimental psychology has been considered particularly offensive by animal rights activists.

The animal rights movement has had a significant impact on animal research and on the teaching of certain areas of psychology (Herzog, 1990). Herzog (2005) proposes guidelines for discussing the use of animals.

These guidelines address such issues as communicating with students, dealing with students who object to using animals, working with student researchers, working with faculty members and administrators, and communicating with the public and the media in the midst of the animal research controversy.

Discuss the arguments for and against the use of animals in psychological research.
Most researchers would not argue against humane treatment of research animals. The issue has more to do with the following questions:
Is animal welfare the same as animal rights?
Should animals have the same rights as humans?
Is animal research essential to our advancement of knowledge?
What is humane treatment and what is not?

informed consent
Legally given permission to participate in a study.
Using language that is reasonably understandable to that person except when conducting activities without consent mandated by law or governmental regulation.

Legally incapable people must still provide an appropriate explanation
2) seek individual’s assent
3) Consider person’s preferences and personal interests
4) obtain permission from appropriate legal guardian.

Psyc services court order – inform individual if this is the case.

Appropriately document written and oral consent, permission and assent (def: willingness to participate in a study).

right to privacy
Respect right to privacy (don’t share data that will identify specific details of participant). Right not to reveal information about themselves. Balanced against welfare of society as a whole. Don’t exploit the participant.

Assurance that identifying information will not be made available to anyone who is not directly involved in the study without permission

The participant will remain anonymous throughout the study

Covers a wide range of actions. False expectations of the processes under investigation. More serious – giving subject false information about their performance on a task. Avoid deception that presents subjects with a negative self-evaluation should be avoided.

a. Don’t conduct study involving deception unless you have determined the use of deception techniques is justified by the study’s significant prospective scientific that non deceptive alternative procedures are not feasible.

b. Do not deceive prospective participants about research that is reasonably expected to cause pain.

c. Explain deception as early as feasible. Preferable at conclusion of participation. NO later than conclusion of data collection.

The process of informing participants after the session of the experiment’s true purpose to increase their understanding and remove possible harmful effects of deception.

A.Provide opportunity for participants to obtain appropriate information about the nature, results, and conclusion of the research.

B. If have to delay take reasonable measures to reduce risk of harm.

C. When research becomes aware that research results harmed a participant take reasonable steps to minimize the harm.

voluntary participation
Requires that people not be coerced into participating in research.

freedom to withdraw
Participants should be able to leave a study at any time if they feel uncomfortable. They should also be allowed to withdraw their data. They should be told at the start of the study that they have the right to withdraw.

protection from harm
Researchers must not put participants in a situation where they might be at risk of harm as a result of their participation. Harm can be defined as both physical and psychological.

research ethics board
When confronted with an ethical dilemma, the researcher is encouraged and expected to consult with colleagues and advisory bodies. Such advisory bodies may include institutional research ethics boards and the CPA’s Committee on Ethics. The decision for action, however, remains with the individual psychologist concerned.

Every university where research involving human and animal subjects is conducted has set up a research ethics board to guide researchers in resolving ethical dilemmas and to monitor research activities. Agencies that award funds for research typically require researchers to have their research proposals reviewed by a research ethics board.

Discuss the balance between potential benefit of a research project and its potential costs to research participants.
If harm is to be done to participants, the results of the study must have a considerable potential to improve society at large.

Certainly there are many useful things that could be garnered and justified from participants subjected to moderate pain or discomfort, but many ethical issues become relevant when asking participants to pay higher costs.

What is the researcher’s responsibility with respect to the research participant’s right to privacy?
Psychologist respect right to privacy it must balance against the welfare of society as a whole. Researcher remember participant is doing them a favor. Freedom to refuse or withdrawal. Increases researcher’s obligation not to exploit the participant. Concern for privacy continues after data is collected. Have right to expect data will never be made public in a way that would permit their identification, unless they agree to the publication. Data should be coded to protect privacy involving sensitive material.

Researchers must code sensitive data, respect people’s right not to reveal certain pieces of information about themselves, and keep in mind that there is much potential value in information that people may be reluctant to reveal.

Under what circumstances is deception acceptable in research?
A. Don’t conduct a study involving deception unless they have determined the use of deceptive techniques is justified by the study’s significant prospective scientific, educational or applied value and that effective non deceptive alternative procedures are not feasible.

B. Don’t deceive about expected research that may cause pain or severe emotional distress.

C. Explain any deception as early as feasible. – Preferable at end of participation but no later than conclusion of data collection from all participants.

Evaluate Milgram’s (1963) obedience research in relation to the ethical principles discussed in this unit.
The most famous example is Stanley Milgram’s series of experiments on obedience. In Milgram’s experiments, research participants suffered tremendous mental stress for believing that they had inflicted pain on other people. They had unknowingly submitted themselves to the power of obedience to an authority
Milgram’s procedure involved deception, psychological harm,

How might these ethical guidelines affect the validity of research?
Researchers must design their experiments to avoid conscious or unconscious bias. a. SELECTION b. INDEPENDENT REVIEW c. MINIMAL RISK d. UNDUE INDUCEMENT e. COERCION f. EXPLOITATION g. DATA INTEGRITY

(The research should be expected to produce useful results and increase knowledge, which is important because there is a limited amount of money and supplies for research.

Research that is not scientifically valid wastes these resources.

Furthermore, research only results in increased knowledge if others take the results seriously.

Often researchers will not believe the results of an experiment if it does not follow the scientific method.

This means that a research study must be carefully planned to answer a specific question. There should be a hypothesis to be tested, a control, and controlled variables when appropriate.

Also, experiments must be long enough and include enough subjects to make the results convincing.

Researchers often say that good research is reproducible. This means that if other researchers did the same experiment, they would get similar results.

Sometimes a researcher hoping to get a certain result will design her research in a way that makes that result more likely.

This is known as bias, and whether it is purposeful or accidental, it is not scientifically valid.

For example, a researcher testing a new cancer drug might only choose human subjects she thinks will get better. This might make the drug look more effective than it really is. Or, a researcher testing a new drug might compare the new drug with a lower dose of an old drug. This would make the new drug look good, but it is not a useful comparison. Researchers must design their experiments to avoid conscious or unconscious bias.


Researchers must collect, accurately record, and store the data from their experiments to have data integrity. Their research should be reproducible, and others should be able to look at the data from an experiment and come to the same conclusions. Researchers must not fabricate data, falsify data, or delete data for any reason, even to make their results look better. Data integrity is part of the ethical principle of scientific validity. Without data integrity, research results are not valid

Exploitation of people who participate in research can sometimes occur because researchers have more power, knowledge, and control than subjects. Some worry about exploitation when researchers go to developing countries to do their research.

In research, coercion can occur when subjects feel that there will be negative consequences if they do not participate in a study.

When an inducement is so big that it leads people to take excessive risks, it is considered an undue inducement. Some worry that economically disadvantaged people will feel more of this pressure. As a result, they might participate in riskier research and take on more of the research burden. This raises concerns about the ethical principle of fair subject selection. Others worry that the prospect of earning money will make people think less carefully about the risks of a research study when deciding whether to participate.

When a study is no riskier than living everyday life, it is called minimal risk. Minimal risk studies do not have to benefit subjects to be ethical. However, they must at least have social value to make it worth using resources and taking the time of the subjects. This way, minimal risk studies still have a favorable risk-benefit ratio.

Researchers have a lot to consider when they design their research studies.
They also believe strongly in the research they are doing.

As a result, even the most careful researchers might overlook ways they could improve their research to make it more consistent with ethical principles or other requirements for research.

For example, they might make the study riskier than it needs to be or might target only subjects who are easy to talk into participating. To avoid such problems, a group of people who are not connected to the research are required to give it an independent review.

Elements of Informed Consent: • Competence • Disclosure • Understanding • Voluntariness

Participation in research can sometimes benefit individual subjects. So, a broad set of people should have the opportunity to participate and therefore enjoy the rewards of the research.researchers must carefully consider the research question and which people best can help answer it when deciding whom to recruit and whom to select for participation in their studies.
A research burden can be the time it takes people to participate or the inconvenience or discomfort it causes them.
risks should be outweighed by the benefits society gets from the study — the social value of the research.

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