Ethical Issues in the Use of Human Participants

WJEC PY3 revision cards for the ethical issues involving human participants essay

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  • Created by: Flo
  • Created on: 04-06-12 11:48


When psychologists carry out research using human participants, precautions must be taken to ensure they are treated ethically.

In the UK, the BPS sets guidelines to what constitutes an ethical study and these must be followed by all researchers.

The purpose of these guidelines is to ensure participants are not harmed or exploited when taking part in research, and to avoid unethical research that have arisen in previous uncontrolled research.

However, in some situations following these guidelines may mean results are invalid. 

Example; - If Asch revealed conformity to be his true aim participants may have produced demand characteristics, giving findings low internal validity.

If psychologists believe their research is so important the benefits to society outweigh any possible harm, a cost - benefit analysis is conducted.

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Protection from Physical or Psychological Harm

- Participants must not suffer any physical or psychological harm and must leave the study in the same state they arrived in.

- Intentionally harming or causing distress to another person is considered morally wrong and unacceptable in any situation.

- Example; - The BBCs replication of Zimbado's prison study where participants behaviour was modified drastically

- Milgram's participants believed they had committed murder.

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Lack of Informed Concent

- Participants must agree to take part in research whilst knowing fully what it will involve.

- It is morally wrong to lie, exploit or take advantage of people.

- Example; Piliavin's study of people on a New York subway.

- Example - Gibson and Walk's study where the infants were unable to understand or consent.

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The Right to Withdraw.

- Participants must be able to leave the study at anytime without giving a reason.

- Failure to do so is a violation of the participants free will.

- Example; - Milgram's participants were continually denied this right

- Example; - Rosenhan's participants couldn't withdraw as they did not know they were in a study which is an invasion of privacy.

- The studies above illustrate the importance of following ethical guidelines in order to protect human participants.

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