Psychology - Ethical issues in the use of human participants.

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Psychology-Ethical issues (human participants)

  • An ethical issues arises only when an ethical guideline is broken. To understand the ethical 'issues' or 'dilemmas' that do occur we must first consider the different ethical guidelines.
  • Guidelines:
  • Privacy  Does a person want their behaviour to be observed ?
  • Confidentiality  Is it harmful NOT to tell ?
  • Protection from harm  Physical/psychological
  • Right to withdraw  Do they feel they can leave ?
  • Informed consent  Full/partial
  • Deception  Omissive/active
  • It is important to consider why these guidelines may be broken and hence, consequently, which ethical issues may arise in the use of human particpants for psychological research.
  • These ethical guidelines do not apply to animal research
  • * = key points to remember.
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Key Points

  • There are a few key points to remember that may be briefly mentioned:
  • Guidelines are there to protect participants.
  • Participants must always leave in the same state in which they entered.
  • Guidelines are to be followed by ALL.
  • Sometimes a psychologist may find it difficult to adhere to ethical guidelines because of the effect they may have on the validity of results.
  • Thus they may sometimes be justifiably broken.
  • But researchers MUST be aware of the IMPACT on participants.
  • Often this consideration will lead to an 'ethical dilemma' in which a cost-benefit analysis is undertaken and it is established whether or not a guideline may be JUSTIFIABLY broken.
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Considerations

  • For this essay you must consider in turn each of the ethical guidelines,
  • Why they may be broken,
  • why the participant wants them in place and
  • which methods/studies they may be related to in example.
  • Remember that the potential risk involved in an experiment should always be no more than that posed in a participant's 'normal' life and that sometimes a major reason why these ethical issues occur is because a psychologist cannot accurately predict these risks. (when creating a cost-benefit analysis)
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Privacy

  • Why it may be broken:
  • The privacy guideline may be broken in studies that include either observations as in observational experimental methodology or very close analysis as in case study methodology. Often it is broken as participants may not wish to be studied to the extent deemed necessary for success in results.
  • Why the participant wants the guideline to be in place:
  • As always the function of the particular guideline is to protect the participant from the harm that may arise. In the case of privacy this can be from harassment from over-studying or from exposition and embarrassment if the behaviour observed is socially undesirable or even illegal.
  • Link to method/study:
  • Prevalent mostly in case/field/observational methodology where sometimes it is necessary to study a participant in depth or without their knowledge. e.g as in any case study or observations such as Middlemist's or Humpreys's where subjects were observed in very private situations. 
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Confidentiality

  • Why it may be broken:
  • The privacy guideline may be broken if a confider reveals something that is deemed a potentially harmful fact relating to them. In these cases it is a legal requirement to notify somebody who may effectively deal with the risk.
  • Why the participant wants the guideline to be in place:
  • As always the function of the particular guideline is to protect the participant from the harm that may arise. In the case of confidentiality this can be because a participant would feel hugely betrayed and may suffer serious consequences if the person they confide in does not keep confidentiality.
  • Link to method/study:
  • Prevalent mostly in interview/case/questionnaire methodology where a participants revelation is necessary for results but may be harmful if discovered. ie. in any relationship studies a person may be reluctant to disclose information about sex or happiness etc. within a relationship if it is not kept confidential, moreover a lack of confidentiality may damage the relationship and therefore be damaging also to a person's psychological well being.
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Protection From Harm

  • Why it may be broken:
  • The protection from harm guideline may be broken if a particular researcher within a particular piece of research is unable to accurately predict the possible risk within their cost benefit analysis.
  • Why the participant wants the guideline to be in place:
  • As always the function of the particular guideline is to protect the participant from the harm that may arise. In the case of protection from harm this can be because without the particular guideline and emphasis a person may actually incur very serious physical or psychological harm.
  • Link to method/study:
  • Prevalent mostly in lab/field methodology where often a participant cannot be fully aware as to what they are involved in and therefore may not themselves be able to perceive the possible risks. Hence this guideline is vital for their safety. For example in Milgram's study on obedience or Zimbardo's prison experiment the study allowed participants to come to serious and sometimes long lasting physical and psychological harm which cannot really be justified by the strength of any results and may even negatively influence their validity.
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Right To Withdraw

  • Why it may be broken:
  • The right to withdraw guideline may be broken if a participant does not feel for a variety of reasons that they may leave. Often this is the case as researchers do not want to emphasise this possibility as it may be damaging to results and group performance.
  • Why the participant wants the guideline to be in place:
  • As always the function of the particular guideline is to protect the participant from the harm that may arise. In the case of right to withdraw this can be because a participant may fear the loss of a monetary reward or the social pressure of "ruining" or "letting down". As such a participant needs a researcher to stress that they are able to leave whenever they need and will still receive any benefits and incur no costs. It can be psychologically damaging if a person feels trapped in this way.
  • Link to method/study:
  • Prevalent mostly in lab methodology where a participants involvement is crucial and sometimes, as in the case of Milgram, necessary due to the nature of the study (seeing if they would stay on verbal cues to do so). A participant leaving for example in Asch's study may have increased demand characteristics and changed results for the rest of a group.
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Informed Consent

  • Why it may be broken:
  • The informed consent guideline may be broken if it is deemed to high a risk for the validity of an experiment's results for a participant to know fully the aims of a study and therefore consent on an informed basis.
  • Why the participant wants the guideline to be in place:
  • As always the function of the particular guideline is to protect the participant from the harm that may arise. In the case of informed consent this can be because a participant is not aware of the full aims of a study and thus has only given partially informed consent (as opposed to full). This can lead to harm through feelings of betrayal and even more harm if not knowing the aims puts a participant at serious risk of something they may not have consented to knowingly.
  • Link to method/study:
  • Prevalent mostly in lab/field/observational methodology where a participant may not know fully of their involvement in order to reduce demand characteristics and thus keep results valid. For example Langer and Rodin's field experiment lead to serious (sometimes fatal) harm on account of a condition that many really did not give full consent to (they could not, to reduce demand characteristics) and would not have knowingly.
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Deception

  • Why it may be broken:
  • The deception guideline may be broken if it is deemed necessary to do so in order to protect the validity of results. This is because by deceiving a participant and thus not disclosing a study's full aims it is more effectively protected from demand characteristics and social desirability effects.
  • Why the participant wants the guideline to be in place:
  • As always the function of the particular guideline is to protect the participant from the harm that may arise. In the case of deception this can be because a participant is not aware of the full aims of a study and thus has only given partially informed consent (as opposed to full). This can lead to harm through feelings of betrayal, a desire for their results to be discounted, a loss of faith in the profession and even more harm if not knowing the aims puts a participant at serious risk of something they may not have consented to knowingly.
  • Link to method/study:
  • Prevalent mostly in lab/field/observational methodology where a participant may not know fully of their involvement in order to reduce demand characteristics and thus keep results valid. For example Asch's study of conformity in an unambiguous situation or Loftus and Palmer's EWT experiment.
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