Research methods


Ethical considerations

Ethical issues with Human Participants

The first main issue relates to informed consent and deception. Ideally, participants should be given the opportunity to know about all aspects of any research before agreeing to take part. This is the basic right stemming from the inhumane experiments conducted in concentration camps, such as Auschwitz -Birkenau in the Second World War.
However the issue arises because full information may compromise the integrity of a study.

The second main issue relates to harm, and what constitutes too much harm. For example, Ainsworth argued in her strange situation research with infants, that the distress they experienced was no greater than that experienced in everyday life. In both cases the decision as to what is acceptable or not acceptable is open to debate.

1 of 6

Ethical considerations

Code of conduct

The current BPS code of ethics and conduct (BPS 2006) identifies four ethical principles and includes advice on how these should be dealt with:

1. Respect - for the dignity and worth of all persons. This includes standards of privacy and confidentiality and informed consent. Observations of behaviour in public without informed consent are only acceptable in situations where the people being studied would reasonably expect to be observed by strangers.
Intentional deception (lack of consent) is only acceptable when it is necessary to protect the integrity of research and when nature of the deception is disclosed to participants at earliest opportunity. One way to judge deception is to consider whether participants are likely to object or show unease when debriefed, in which case the deception may be judged unacceptable. Participants should be aware of the right to withdraw from the research at anytime.

2. Competence - psychologist should maintain high standards in their professional work.

2 of 6

Ethical considerations

Code of conduct

3. Responsibility - psychologists have a responsibility to their clients, to the general public and to the science of Psychology. This includes protecting participants from physical and psychological harm as well as debriefing at the conclusion of their participation to inform clients of the nature and conclusions of the research, to identify any unforeseen harm, and to arrange for assistance if needed.

4. Integrity - psychologists should be honest and accurate. This includes reporting the findings of any research accurately and acknowledging any potential limitations. It also includes bringing instances of misconduct by other psychologists to the attention of the BPS.

3 of 6

Ethical considerations

Dealing with ethical issues

The code of conduct offers ethical guidelines for psychologists to follow. In conjunction with such guidelines psychologists deal with ethical issues using ethical committees to assess research pro proposals, by punishing psychologists who contravene the code with disbarment from the society, and by educating students and qualified psychologists about their duties as researchers.

4 of 6

Ethical considerations

Ethical issues with non-human animals

Although the vast majority of investigations in involve the study of humans, there are several reasons why psychologists may chosse to carry out research using non-human animals:

  • Animals may be studied simply because they are fascinating to study in their own right and such research may ultimately benefit animals.
  • Animals offer the opportunity for greater control and objectivity in research procedures. Much of the behaviousrist theory was established using animal studies for just this reason, for example animals in the Skinner box.
  • We may use animals when we can't use humans. Animals have been exposed to variuos procedures and events that would simply not be possible with human beings. For example , Harlow's research 1959 with rhesus monkeys and wire 'mothers' showed that contact comfort was a more essential requirements than food.
  • Hman beings and non-human animals have enough of their physiology and evoultionary past in commom  to justify conclusions drawn from experiments involving one, to the other. However, it can be argued that animals tested under stressful condictions may provide very little useful information.
5 of 6

Ethical considerations

Moral justifcations

The question still remains as to whether 'science at any cost' is justifiable.

Sentient beings - Do animals expereinece pain and emotions? in terms of pain there is evidence that they respond to pain but this may not be the same as conscious awareness. However, there is some evidence that animals other than primates have self awearness. In addition, some humans , such as brain- damaged individuals, lack scientific , but used in research without consent.

Speciesism - Peter Stringer 1990, argued that discrimination on the basis of sp

6 of 6


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Research methods and techniques resources »