Ethical issues

The british psychological society, Fully informed consent, Deception, Protection from harm.


The British Psychological society.

  • According to the BPS's Code of Ethics and Conduct, ethics can be defined as 'the science of morals or rules of behaviour'.
  • The BPS have devised codes of conduct and ethical guidelines to ensure that the rights of participants are protected at all times.
  • The guidelines give specific advice on the types of ethical issues that may arise in the use of human participants and how to deal with these issues should they arise.
  • Before carrying out research, ethical implications should be considered.
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Ethical issues

The Code of Ethics and Conduct state that psychologists should:

  • repect individual differences and the knowledge, experience and expertise that participants have.
  • obtain fully informed consent.
  • Respect participants privacy and confidentiality.
  • Avoid harming participants.
  • Recognise theparticipants right to withdraw.
  • Debrief at the end.
  • be honest
  • recognise that ethical dilemmas will inevitably ariseand its their repsonsibility to attempt to resolve such dilemmas.

Fully informed consent - For a participant to take place in a study you need fully informed consent. This means all aspects of the study have been disclosed in an understandable format, and the participant is competent to make a rational and mature decision that is made without influence or coercion.

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Ethical Issues

Deception - This can be defined as withholding information from participants, or misleading the participants in some way. Deception can be seen in Milgram's (1974) research when he decieved his participants by:

  • Not declaring the true nature of the study, he told them he was investigating the role of punishment whereas he was investigating the role of an authority figure in obedience.
  • He didnt tell them about the confederates, he told them that the learners were other participants when they were actually working for him.
  • Fake electric shocks as he didnt inform them that the electric shocks were real.

Protection from harm - The BPS guidelines state that all participants must be protected from both physical and psychological harm, as seen in Curtiss (1977), Zimbardo (1973).

Psychologists must also allow the right to withdraw from the study at any time and protect their confidentiality.

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Methods of dealing with ethical issues

Fully informed consent and deception - It is often difficult in practice for a participant to give their consent because to reduce the risk of demand characteristics an element of deception is necessary. Deception is sometimes necessary to reduce the impact of demand characteristics, but they also state that certain strategies must be employed to deal with this ethical issue.

To resolve the issue of deception you can:

  • minimise the amound of deception used.
  • Obtain partial consent.
  • Debrief the participants once it has been conducted.
  • Using alternative research methods, such as role play.

Milgrams (1974) has been heavily criticised for the levels of deception he exposed his participants to. He decieved them about the true nature of the study. It could be said that he didnt minimise the amount of deception. He did Conduct preliminary research using psychiatrists, adequately debriefed his participants and only relevant info was witheheld.

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Methods of dealing with ethical issues.

Protection from harm - All participants must be protected from physical and psychological harm. This can be avoided by:

  • cosidering their research from the standpoint of participants with the purpose of eliminating potential risks.
  • Inform the participants from the first contact that they have the right to withdraw from the study at any time.
  • Avoid forming relationships with the participants beyond that of the researchparticipant relationship.
  • Aceepts that it is their responsibility to deal with any harm that arises.

Zimbardo's (1973) has been criticised in relation to this because the guard became brutal towards the prisoners making them feel humilitated and anxious.

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Methods of dealing with ethical issues.

Privacy and Confidentiality - The BPS suggest that this can be maintained through the use of appropriate record keeping, such as keeping information safe and only keep them as long as required. The BPS say that disclosure must be obtained from the participants however in the exceptional circumstances when the researcher feels that the info provided by the participant highlights that they or another person are at risk the researcher must inform the relevant authority.

Zimbardo (1973) dealt with this by obtaining consent to reconrd his prison study directly from the participants.

Curtiss (1977) it is difficult as to whether he was able to obtan fully informed consent for the release of the book on Genie. As Genie was severly affected both congnitivly and socially.

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Ethical issues in the use of Non-Human Animals

  • Some animal research is still conducted today but we now have ethical guidelines protecting the use of animals in research.
  • Kluver and Bucy (1939) removed the amygdale form the brain of a monkey in order to demonstrate the role of the amygdale in medicating levels of agression. This study can be criticised because of the removal of the monkey from their natural enviroment and the fact that the monkey couldnt consent and the pain and suffering experienced by the monkey. However this study led to the development of amygdalotomies a treatment now used on people with agression.
  • It might be considered that research in a lab would contain much more ehtical issues than in a field experiment. But as soon as an animal leaves its enviroment it becomes one because of the use of fake predators or fake distress calls which could cause an animal to abandon their young. Handling an animal or food additions.
  •  Animals are protected by The Animals (scientific Procedures) Act, 1986, Bateson's Decision Cube, 1986, The three R's by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1990.
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Animal protection

The Animals (scientific procedures) Act, 1986

  • The law is mainly concerned with the use of animals in cosmetic and medical research and not as much in  psychological investigations.
  • The law ensures that the knowledge gained from animal research outweighs the potential harm on the animals and that the researcher have knowledge on the animals. Procedures that cause pain need a licence which is granted by the Home Office and failure to comply with the guidelines results in prosecution.
  • Since the impliments of the above legisation the number of animals used has dropped significantly. 1977 - 43,196, 1989 - 13,286.
  • The American Psychological Association(1990) has reported that about 7-8% of psycholgical research involves the use of animals. Animal rights activists argue that this legislation fails to offer animal protection.
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Animal protection

Bateson's Decision Cube, 1986

  • In 1986 Bateson proposed a system based on three criteria that would enable researchers to evaluate research with non-human animals.
  • It looks at issues of animal suffering, certainty of benefit and quality of research.
  • Researcher that support the use of animal research believe that it is effective in reducing animal suffering because only research considered to be low in terms of animal suffering, high in terms of benefit and high in terms of design quality is granted ethical approval.
  • So investigations high in suffering and low in benefit and quality wount be able to obtain this.
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Animal Protection

The three R's 1990

  • 1990 the British Association for the Advancement of science produced a declaration to protect the use of non-human animals in research.
  • Reduction, Replacement, Refinement.
  • Reduction - either obtaining the same amount of info from fewer animals or more info from the same amount of animals.
  • Replacement - using alternative techniques on humans rather than experiments on animals.
  • Refinement - using procedures that minimise stress and enhance animal well being.
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Ethical issues arising from applications of psycho

Sieber and Stanley (1988) suggest 4 main aspects of research activity that raises ethical issues:

  • the formation of research questions,
  • the treatment of participants,
  • the enviroment in which the rearch is carried out in,
  • the application of the research findings.

ETHICAL ISSUES IN PSYCHOMETRIC TESTS - these are used to measure aspects of behaviour, such as measuring intelligence to determine personality type. Throught life we will be subject to this such as assessing your learning type or sets in school. These tests can play a valuable role in our society.

Issues of Consent - When carrying out this test you are usually informed, however the extent to which they are free to consent to take the test is questionable. e.g. most people wouldnt refuse a test for fear of being rejected.

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Issues of Equity - Most of the data collected is handeled impartially and fairly sometimes the data can be misused. Such as Blinkhorn - bias against ethnic minority.

Issues of debriefing - The mystique of these test results means that they are frequently not discussed with those that complete them, or if they are they are discussed in terms that can be understood. This may not seem to be a big problem but as Cardwell and Meldrum (1996) state this failure to adequately explain the results of a test is a failure to use psycholgical testing humanely.

Issues of Potential Harm - They may feel unable to withdraw from the test, dues to discrimination or due to insufficent feedback they are left feeling confused and distressed.

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Ethical Issues in Advertising

  • The first commercial advertisment was in 1955, ever since psychologists have been fascinated by the art to presuade people to buy things.
  • Advertising is used to persuade people that they need or want something, advertisers have done this by getting viewers to form an association or through the use of subliminal messaging.

Issues of consent, withdrawl and protection from harm - Some may argue that being conditioned to form an association is an infringement on their rights, most would argue that it is up to them whether to buy the products. So they can conciously consider whether to participate in it or withdraw from the advertising campaign.The use of Subliminal messaging causes ethical issues because of consent but also in relation to withdrawl and protection from harm. These messages work on the persons sub-conscious therefore they will be 'consciously aware' of the message presented to them. Issues of consent - using specific lanuage, imagerythat by-passes logic to appeal directly to ourr emotions. This is related to the functioning of the left and right hemisphere. The left is seen more analytical whilst the right is more emotive.

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Katy Eve


This was really useful thanks :)



Thank you sooo much!



Thanks it was very useful but had a lot of spelling mistakes x x x

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