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  • Created on: 14-01-13 10:01

Ethical Issues with Human Participants


The ethical guidelines enable psychologists to work within a framework to protect the 'public.'

STRENGTHS- This can therefore increase participant participation and also increase the influence of psychology practice in society.

WEAKNESSES- However, there are limitations. For example, ethical guidelines are not a legal requirement so psychologists cannot be sent to prison if an infringement is made upon them so there is nothing stopping the psychologists from harming participants.

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Ethical Issues with Human Participants

DECEPTION AND INFORMED CONSENT(both come to mind together)- participants should know what they are taking part in and agree to the procedure of the study.BECAUSE If a ppt is decieved, they may feel uncomfortable or distressed when they do not know what is happening in the study and hence prevents true informed consent. 

EXAMPLES: ROSENHAM decieved the ppts (doctors and nurses) about the nature of the pseudopatients. This may have led them in future to be mistrustful of patients and therefore not offer the best treatment. However, it may reduce chance of demand characteristics and increase validity as the participants were behaving naturally.

ASCH- decieved their ppts by not informing them that the other ppts were, in fact, confederates and that the experiment they were taking part in was looking into conformity rather than vision.

MILGRAM misinformed his ppts by not telling them the learner was really a confederate, that the electric shocks weren't real and that the task wan't looking into learning. However, it was necessary in order to test their obedience levels. 

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Ethical Issues with Human Participants

PROTECTION OF PARTICIPANTS- should not experience physical or psychological harm during the research and should leave the study in the same condition they arrived in. BECAUSE- It isn't always possible to anticipate when ppts will experience harm.

MILGRAM- showed signs of extreme distress e.g. shaking, biting lips, trembling. Three ppts even had panic attacks.

ZIMBARDO- ppts became so distressed that the experiment had to stopped after only 6 days (as opposed to 2 full weeks). One ppt even went on a hunger strike and four of the mock prisoners were released due to, '“extreme depression, disorganised thinking, uncontrollable crying and fits of rage.”

MILGRAM AND ZIMBARDO DEFENDED THIS- by stating that they could not have known how distressed the ppts would become. IN MILGRAM'S STUDY, it was found afterwards that over 80% of the ppts were glad to have taken part and 74% said to have learned something important from the experiment. However, was investigating the 'Germans are different' hypothesis worthy of harming the ppts?

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Ethical Issues with Human Participants

RIGHT TO WITHDRAW- ppts must be told they have the right to withdraw from the research at any point, which includes withdrawing any data they have given even when the research has finished.

EXAMPLES- A number of american studies use college students as ppts and the students recieve course credits for their participation. This may make them feel they like can't withdraw. Ppts in other studies may feel they can't withdraw because it would spoil the study.

MILGRAM- did not tell ppts they could withdraw from the study and went further by giving 'prods' when the ppts looked like they did not want to give the shocks (e.g. The experiment requires you to continue). This would have made the ppts feel more stressed and pressured into continuing when they may not wanted to.

ZIMBARDO- did not tell ppts they could withdraw from the study. One prisoner went on a hunger strike because he thought it was the only way to get out of the experiment.

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Ethical Issues with Human Participants

CONFEDENTIALITY/ INVASION OF PRIVACY- concerns the trust that personal information is protected and the ppts right to flow information regarding themselves. However, it can be difficult to establish what exactly counts as 'private'.

EXAMPLES- Laud Humphreys- involved a covert observation of gay men in public toilets and was followed by a questionnaire sent to the homes of the men (traced via their car number plates). This led to many family breakdowns as many ppts had families and wives who were unaware of secret sexual activity. Led to psychological harm of the ppts. IT IS ARGUABLE WHETHER THE BENEFITS TO SOCIETY WERE WORTH THE HARM TO PPTS.  ALSO, In an observational study, some people might regard it as an invasion of their privacy to be watched in a supermarket, which is a public place.

CONCLUSION- When looking at research, it is important to consider the ethical issues to review the potential costs to the participants as apposed to the benefits to the population from the research findings. Ethical issues must be considered by ethics commitees to assess this in order to weigh up whether this harm is justified or necessary for the hypothesis to be tested.

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