Ethical Cost Vs Scientific Benefit:


Introduction: Ethical Committee's

  • When conducting psychological research, you need to get permission off of the BPS and the ethics committee, they are a group of people who weigh up scientific benefits and ethical costs and decide whether you can carry out your research. 
  • The ethical committee approves a study before i can begin by raising ethical issues and then suggests ways of dealing with them.  
1 of 5

Humphrey's tearoom:

  • Humphreys (1970) sought to demonstrate that certian common prejudices about homosexuals were mistaken. To do this he pretended to be a 'watchqueen' in a 'tearooom' (a public toilet where homosexual men meet for sex).
  • The main finding of this study was that most of the homosexuals in everyday life lived as heterosexuals, providng an important insight into the lives of men at the time.
  • However, the improtance of this study is debateable, it did provide evidence to support existing research that the proportion of people who only had same-sex relationships was relatively small, but the proportion of people who sometimes had same-sex relationships was much larher (Kinsey et al 1948) - however, this information was already known and may not have needed extra support.
  • Participants were also unaware they were being studied - Humphrey acted as a health care worker and participants were deceieved about the true aims of the study.
  • Issue of confidentiality arose as Humphrey made records of individuals care numbers & licence plates and used them to track the men back home.
  • To conclude, ethical issues may be overlooked as Humphrey recognised these issues and reocrds of participants were destroyed. This counteracts many of the ethical issues.
  • I think that the scientific benefit outweights the ethical costs as the research was benefical to society.
2 of 5

Case Study of HM:

  • Case studies are often used in psychology to provide rich insights into uniqure circumstances, such as the case of HM. The resting and observation of HM's capabilities over a period of 40 yearsprovided psycholgoists with important insights into human memory.
  • However, the same information has been gained from more annoymous studies of patients with amnesia and more recently, brain scnas or normal individuals performing different memory tasks.
  • The big issue concerns informed consent. HM could not remember anythign new for more than 90 seconds, so he was unable to give consent to the prolonged testing he underwent. He did not know what was being done to him or even who was oing it. This could be seen as exploitation of a man who had no choice.
  • However, at the time of the operation that HM of his memory, his parents were alive and may have provided consent, but they died many years ago. When HM died in 2008, his brain was sliced up into sections and is now kept at the University of California, San Diego. There was no one who could have given consent.
3 of 5

Zimbardo's prison study:

  • Like Milgram, Zimbardo showed that human behaviour could be explained in terms of situational factors (in this case conforming to social roles). Zimbardo hoped his findings would change the way American prisons are fun.
  • However, there is little evidence that the study had any effect on American prisons - if anything, they became more impersonal over the years. This suggests that there is little scientific value to the study.
  • Zimbardo's participants were fully informed about what was going to take place but nevertheless many of them found the experience more unpleasant than they ever would have imagined.
  • Over the course of what should have been a two-week study, the guards became increasingly tyrannical and required prisoners to perform demeaning task such as cleaning the toilets with their bare hands.
  • Five prisoners had to be released early because of extreme depression and the study was stopped after six days.
  • I think that the scientific benefits outweigh the ethical costs as participants gave full informed consent and they had the right to withdraw.
  • Effects of participants eventually wore off - all ethical issues were short-term problems and they didn't have long-lasting effects.
4 of 5


  • Overall, looking at the theories and research, i think the benefits strongly outweigh ethical costs.
  • If the benefits didn't outweigh the costs, we would not have psychological research and it wouldn't be allowed to be carried out, the ethical committee has to accept and approve the research.
  • Always going to be a subjective opinion as everybody views it differenly.
  • Animals in research should be allowed, as they have strong benefits in society and the number of animals in research is 3 million compared to 700 million that are killed for food in the UK.
5 of 5


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Core studies resources »