A2 - Psychology - Ethical issues with using human participants

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Informed Consent

  • Participants should be told about all aspects of the research before agreeing to take part (informed consent). This is an issue because the information may compromise the study but if there is a potential for harm participants should have the opportunity to decline to participate.
  • For example, in Milgram's study.
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Deception

  • Honesty is important especially as without it participants cannot give informed consent.
  • For example, Rosenhan deceived hospital staff so they may not trust patients afterwards.
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Right to Withdraw

  • Without the right to witthdraw participants may be exposed to unecessary harm, especially if they didn't give informed consent. Right to withdraw may be difficult if participants offered incentives, e.g. course credits.
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Confidentiality

  • Confidentiality depends on the protection of personal information, although this may be an unobtainable ideal.
  • For example, if the participant in a case study is so unusual they can be recongised from the data.
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Privacy

  • If privacy is invaded (e.g. we are watching when we wouldn't expect to be), confidentiality should be protected but what counts as 'private' may be hard to establish.
  • For example, observing a shoplifter in a public place would be an invasion of privacy.
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Socially sensitive research

  • Socially sensitive research has potential negative implications for the participants or the people it applies to, e.g. drug addits or homosexuals.
  • Evidence on inter-racial differences in IQ may be flawed but is used to support discriminatory social policies.
  • An issue arises when weighing the potential damage of such research against the potential loss if it is not conducted.
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