Implications for the research process


Dealing w/ ppts & how findings are used

Dealing with participants:

Issues such as confidentiality, consent and psychological harm are important factors to consider in terms of social sensitivity

  • E.g. in a study on domestic abuse, participants may worry about their ex-partner finding out about the study. 

The way findings are used:

Researchers should consider how research findings may be used and how it may impact the data. This is important because sensitive data is often publicised in the media.

  • E.g. Adrian Owen who had communicated with brain damage patients who were in a minimally conscious state.
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Topics in Psychology

Social Influence: Milgram’s study

:( Psychological harm - ppts showed massive signs of distress.

:( Deception - ppts were lied to about the aims & objectives of the study.

:( Withdraw - the use of prods made the participants’ right to withdraw unclear

Attachment: Harlow’s study 

:( Psychological harm - monkey’s suffered psychological harm from being in isolation - they sat huddled in a corner in a state of persistent fear & depression. Female monkeys faced a particular state of panic which affected their parenthood, where they smashed their infants faces on the ground - rubbing them back and forth. 

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AO3 - benefits for the group

One strength of socially sensitive research is that it can have benefits for the group who have been studied. One example of this is homosexuality. In 1952 the DSM-1 listed this as a ‘ sociopathic personality disorder’ but finally removed it in 1973

The report also included data on interviews with 6000 women and caused outrage at the time because these were topics that no one discussed. This illustrates the importance of researchers tackling topics that are sensitive

However, in some studies, there may be negative consequences. For example, research investigating the genetic basis of criminality has found that there is a ‘criminal gene’.  This suggests that, when researching socially sensitive topics, there is a need for very careful consideration of the possible outcomes and their consequences.

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AO3 - real world application

Another strength is that certain groups rely on research related to socially sensitive issues. The government looks to research when developing important social policies, for example, decisions related to child care, education, mental health provision, crime and so on. 

For this reason in the UK there are independent groups such as ONS (Office For National Statistics) and such data is used in psychological research. This means that psychologists have an important role to play in providing high-quality research on socially sensitive topics.

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AO3 - poor research design

One limitation is that poor research design may lead to false findings.

e.g. Burt’s research because, even after the fraud was exposed, the 11+ continues to be used. 

The 11+ is still used as a selection tool in parts of the UK today. Similarly, access to many independent schools is based on a child’s performance in an entrance exam taken in year 6 (age 11) and is likely based on the same reasoning that genetic potential has revealed itself by this age. Therefore any research on socially sensitive topics needs to be planned with the greatest care to ensure the findings are valid because of the enduring effects on particular groups of people.

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