A2 - Psychology - Science versus ethics

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  • Created by: jkav
  • Created on: 04-06-16 14:08

Science versus ethics 

Scientific benefits

Milgram's obedience study

Scientific benefits Milgram's research has had a lasting impact on psychology in many ways. First, it triggered a large number of subsequent studies. This is a desirable part of the scientific method because such replications refine and enhance our understanding of behaviour. Therefore a 'good' piece of research (theory or study) is one that encourages researchers to conduct further research. The second main reason for its importance is the fact that the findings were counter-intuitive. Milgram's intial interviews indicated that people would not be willing to obey unjust orders - but the results showed just how important situational factors were.

However... These findings are not without criticism. For example, Mandel (1998) points to a real-life study of a group of German policemen during the Holocaust who behaved quite differently, for example being physically close to their victims didn't make them disobey. Mandel suggests that Milgram provided 'an obedience alibi' and in real life people obey for other reasons (such as, during the Holocaust, being prejudiced against Jews). This questions the scientific benefits of Milgram's study.

Zimbardo's prison study

Scientific benefits Like Milgram, Zimbardo showed that human behaviour could be explained in terms of situational factors (in this case conforming to social roles). Zimbardo hoped his findings would change the way American prisons are run.

However... There is little evidence that the study had any effect on American prisons - if anything, they became more impersonal over the years. This suggests that there is little scientific value to the study. There has been one attempt to replicate it, The Experiment, filmed by the BBC. Reicher and Haslam (2006) claimed that this 'experiment' showe that social identification was a better explanation for the behaviour of prisoners and guards rather than Zimbardo's view that conformity to roles was the explanation.

Case study of HM

Scientific benefits Case studies are often used in psychology to rpovide rich insights into unique circumstances, such as in the case of HM. The testing and observation of HM's capabilities over a period of 40 years provided psychologists with important insights into human memory.

However... the same information has been gained from more anonymous studies of patients with amnesia and, more recently, brain scans of normal individuals performing different memory tasks.

Humphreys' tearoom trade study 

Scientific benefits Humphreys (1970) sought to demnstrate that certain common prejudices about homosexuals were mistaken. To do this he pretended to be a 'watchqueen' in a 'tearoom' (a public toilet where homosexual men meet for sex). The…


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