Psychology - Discuss ways of dealing with ethical issues when using human participants.

  • "Discuss the advantages of the scientific method in psychology"
  • "Discuss the disadvantages of the scientific method in psychology"
  • "Discuss ethical issues in the use of human participants in research in psychology"
  • "Discuss ways of dealing with ethical issues when using human participants in research in psychology"
  • "Discuss ethical issues in the use of non-human animals in research in psychology"

Key Points

  • The question refers to human ethics, thus any animal studies or methodology cannot be applied and will gain no marks.
  • Breaking these guidelines is not against the law, the decision to do so is based on the cost-benefit analysis which covers whether or not the risk of harm is low enough to be outweighed by the potential benefits of the research. 
  • This decision is therefore, worryingly, a subjective one, undertaken by psychologists.
  • It is suggested that possible bias in the psychological field allows for the breaking of these guidelines and therefore some unnecessary and preventable harm.
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Privacy - Why It May Be Broken

  • A good reason as to why the ethical guideline of privacy may be broken and thus why an ethical issue may arise is that often it can be difficult to establish what a private place or activity actually is and therefore the conclusion can lead to the breaking of this guideline.
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Privacy - Dealing With The Broken Guideline

  • There are numerous ways that one may begin to deal with the ethical issue that arises from the breaking of privacy. Mainly a researcher may choose to inform possible participants that they may be observed by signage or verbally etc.
  • In other cases it may also be relevant to disclose that you cannot guarantee 100% privacy and thus the decision for involvement lies with the participant.
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Privacy - Issues

  • People are likely to be upset and even angry on discovering that private data is being used or they are being observed, thus they may insist that it is not used and research is therefore wasted time, effort and funds.
  • Moreover it is not always possible to let somebody know of their violated privacy depending on how private or important the behaviour is that is being observed. Sometimes the observed behaviour may even be illegal e.g at one time homosexuality (Middlemist). Hence an admission of knowledge may anger and psychologically harm the person whose privacy has been violated.
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Privacy - Method/Study

  • Ordinarily a violation of privacy occurs in studies that use covert observational methodology.
  • The aforementioned Humphrey's 70's 'Tea rooms' experiment is a good example as the behaviour he observed (homosexuality) was subject to huge social and even legal consequences. The invasion of privacy was large because of the intensely personal nature of the behaviour observed and the perceived ramifications of being discovered that may have lead to psychological harm.
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Confidentiality - Why It May Be Broken

  • The ethical guideline of confidentiality may sometimes be broken in order to allow more depth in a study or in order to protect the person confiding if the information confided reveals that they are at risk of harm.
  • It is a legal requirement to report information of this kind.
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Confidentiality - Dealing With The Broken Guidelin

  • There a few common ways of dealing the ethical issue that arises from the breaking of the confidentiality guideline. 
  • Often psychologists resolve to employ pseudonyms in order that participant's identities remain confidential.
  • Another similar method is to assign numbers etc.
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Confidentiality - Issues

  • Unfortunately due to the nature of the cases in which confidentiality is often broken, the ethical issue is hugely difficult to avoid. This is because these examples (often case studies) are hugely unique and therefore easily recognisable, thus non-confidential.
  • The unique participants are therefore likely to be harassed and over-studied as they cannot normally give consent due to their condition and are extremely vulnerable.
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Confidentiality - Method/Study

  • The method that may be used as an example, in general, is case study methodology.
  • Any case study may be referenced as evidence as all are purposefully unique eg. Clive Wearing, Phineas Gauge, Anna O', Little Hans and so on. Each too specific, unique and recognisable making confidentiality difficult.
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Protection From Harm - Why It May Be Broken

  • Often the protection from harm guideline is broken because it is virtually impossible for any psychologist to fully predict the possible risk of harm that may be present in an experiment as part of a cost-benefit analysis.
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Protection From Harm - Dealing With The Broken Gui

  • If a subject is considered to have experienced something which may lead to psychological harm they are often offered counselling and psychological assistance.
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Protection From Harm - Issues

  • Often participants will loose faith in the whole field having experienced harm and therefore any psychological treatment may be distrusted and therefore ineffective.
  • Treatment may therefore also be declined, leading to prolonged harm or may not even work producing the same if not a worse outcome.
  • Research may then be time, money and effort wasted.
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Protection From Harm- Method/Study

  • In general the breaking of this guideline and therefore the arising of the ethical issue is attributed to lab/observational methodology. This is because often there is a conscious effort to remove or reduce extraneous variables in order to increase internal validity and produce results that may be used more effectively. As such many of the mechanisms that may protect participants are removed (knowledge of their full involvement etc.).
  • Good examples are observations such as Middlemist's and Humphreys' and lab experiments such as Asch's. In discovering their involvement participants may have suffered harm that they were not protected from on account of it's 'allowance' by the psychologist who may not have understood or foreseen it's magnitude when creating the cost-benefit analysis.
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Right To Withdraw - Why It May Be Broken

  • Sometimes it is necessary (if it be the subject of the experiment) to verbally prompt participants NOT to leave a study.
  • Often a participant may fear the ramifications or consequences of leaving and thus may not actually feel able to do so.
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Right To Withdraw - Dealing With The Broken Guidel

  • In order to deal with this guideline many psychologists opt to inform participants that they may leave at any time and will not suffer any consequences (will still be paid etc.)
  • It is also wise to adhere to the original instructions so that participants feel as if they know what they are involved in and will not desire to leave or remove their results.
  • Consistently present the option of withdrawal.
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Right To Withdraw - Issues

  • It is also possible that on declaring the lack of consequences a participant may not behave appropriately and may even just leave and take the monetary incentive.
  • It may also be very difficult to deal with this issue as results may be affected if participants are consistently asked if they want to leave.
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Right To Withdraw - Method/Study

  • The breaking of this guideline and therefore the ethical issue that goes along is most common amongst experiments using lab, field or observational methodology due to the varyingly controlled nature and the need to establish causal variables.
  • Milgram's experiment for example required verbal cues that coaxed participants to remain in a situation that many protested about and asked to leave.
  • Langer and Rodin - could they withdraw ?
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Informed Consent - Why It May Be Broken

  • Often it is unwise to gain full informed consent from participants as this means that they are fully aware of every aspect of an experiment and therefore are highly susceptible to effects such as demand characteristics and social desirability bias which affect the validity of results.

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Informed Consent - Dealing With The Broken Guideli

  • In order to deal with this, psychologists gain presumptive consent ( from similar participants), partially informed consent or retrospective consent (gained after their involvement).
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Informed Consent - Issues

  • In attempting to gain presumptive or retrospective consent those asked may feel pressure to provide and thus proceedings are unethical.
  • Furthermore presumptive consent assumes a similarity or consistency between all participants which, with the knowledge of the subjectivity of human behaviour, is not representative!
  • Hence the experiment may prove a waste of time as participants may not even consent retrospectively and data, time, money and effort will be lost.
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Informed Consent - Method/Study

  • The ethical issue that arises as a result of breaking the informed consent guideline is common amongst experiments using lab, filed, observational methodology because in these situations there is often a lack of knowledge of involvement or the extent of involvement amongst participants. 
  • A good example may be Zimbardo's prison experiment wherein not knowing fully the aims of the study (percieved effects of certain roles) lead to serious harm on account of a lack of knowledge of possible implications.
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Deception - Why It May Be Broken

  • Often participants are deceived and hence the guideline is broken in order that demand characteristics and social bias is removed. Moreover an experimenter may gain more participants (more representative) who act more naturally on account of being ignorant to the real aims of the study.
  • This increases validity and therefore the usefulness of results.
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Deception - Dealing With The Broken Guideline

  • In order to deal with deception participants are most often debriefed afterwards.
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Deception - Issues

  • Unfortunately in most cases participants are likely to remain still angered at the ignorance of their real involvement and may feel cheated and display a lack of trust.
  • This can lead to a participant withholding their data which means research wastes time, money and effort.
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Deception - Method/Study

  • Deception is likely to occur in experiments employing any kind of lab/field/ observational etc. methodology.
  • A good example may be Langer and Rodin's field experiment observing how perceived choice affects health in the elderly.
  • By not discolsing the aims of the study and therefore providing a fair basis for consent and involvement, these psychologists knowingly and arguably immorally allowed participants to be at serious risk of illness and even fatality.
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