Ways of dealing with ethical issues when using human participants in research in psychology


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Ways of dealing with ethical issues when using
human participants in research in psychology
The first thing to say that ethical issues are not meant to be 'dealt with', they are
guidelines put out to safeguard participants and psychology researchers and their
departments alike. However, some psychologists believe that their research is so
important that a judgement is made that the benefits of the research far out weight
the possible harm that might befall the participants.
Given that that is the situation, there are a number of things that a psychologist can
do, firstly on the issue of consent. One way is to give the participants the option to
volunteer to take part in the study, after explaining what is likely to befall them
during the study. If the participant agrees, then the researcher has participants to
work with. This is a simple way of obtaining consent, but a more tenuous way is to
have presumed consent. This involves having a sample of people that are similar to
the participants. The procedure is explained to the sample and then they are asked
if they would have consented to take part. If they say 'Yes, they would take part',
then you can presume that you participants would also consent to take part, if they
were given the opportunity. Volunteer samples are numerous in psychological
research, e.g. Milgram, Asch, Bennett-Levy and Marteau, to name a few. However,
taking the committee approach to obtaining consent is much rarer, and I have not
found an example of this (if anyone does, mail it to [email protected], please).
There are ways that the potential harm to the participants can be avoided. One way
os to do the opposite of what is intended. For example, Bandura was rightly
criticised for teaching children to behave aggressively. How many would have
criticised him if he taught his participants to behave in a pro-social way? Instead of
modelling aggressive behaviour, the models could have modelled caring behaviours
instead, and made sure that they were easy to spot. The mechanism is the same,
Social Learning Theory, but the harm would be greatly reduced. Another way to
reduce harm is to have a role play, where people only pretend to be in the roles
assigned to them. This is what Zimbardo did with 24 College students who had been
previously screened for any criminal tendencies or criminal activities. They were
then assigned at random to be either prisoners or prison guards, and were told
explicitly that they were not allowed to physically punish the 'prisoners'. It was
hoped that this would reduce the possible damage to the participants. However,
after only six days things got completely out of hand and when that was realised
Zimbardo stopped the study to prevent any further harm being done to the
participants, which is another way of dealing with harm in a study.
Finally, many researchers have to pass their research through an 'ethics committee'

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This is another way of dealing with
ethical issues, because if the ethics committee pass the research then the
researcher has less to worry about, as he can pass part of the responsibility off to
the ethics committee.
www.tonyryan.…read more


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