It is important that all psychological studies should follow these guidelines to keep their participants' physical and psychological well-being at the same level when the study is complete.
- Informed Consent. The psychologists should fully explain the aims of the study, what the participant will do in the study and if there are any potential physical, mental or psychological issues. It should also be explained that the participant can leave the study at any time they wish by request, their results are completely confidential and if they withdraw that their results will be unused. Child participants (under the age of 16) cannot give consent themselves and it is required that a legal parent or guardian gives consent on their behalf.
- Deception. The participants should not be deceived as to what the true aims of the study are - these should be explained during the informed consent phase before the study begins. Alternative methods must be considered instead of deception before it is used (it should be the last resort for the research), only if it is necessary for the study being investigated.
- Protection from harm. This includes physical and psychological harm. Any potential threats should be explained to participants before beginning any trials.
- Right to withdraw. All participants have the right of withdrawal, whereby they can leave the study at an time they wish, and any results gathered from them can be destroyed. This must be explained during the consent phase.
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5. Debriefing. After the study has finished, the participant should have a discussion with the psychologists. Here they must reveal the true nature of the study (if any deception was involved). Participants should also be given the chance to voice any queries they may have. It is still possible for participants to withdraw at this stage and have their results destroyed.
Studies that do not follow these guidelines may be considered unethical. Some examples of notable unethical studies include:
- Little Albert, Watson & Rayner - no protection from harm, no withdrawal, deception
- The Stanford Prison Experiment, Zimbardo et al. - no protection from harm, restricted withdrawal, no informed consent for prisoners
Several laws have been passed to prevent further unethical studies from taking place, such as the Public Health Service Act in America.