Psychology - The ethics of psychological research


Psychologists are bound by a strict set of ethical guidelines that are regulated by the British Psychological Society (BPS). These guidelines help protect participants of psychological research and make sure that the research conducted is carefully considered. Ethical guidelines are moral rules that prevent us from doing harm.

Ethical guidelines

There are six main ethical guidelines, of which one directly relates to the protection of participants. The others are:

  • Consent
  • Right to withdraw
  • Deception
  • Debrief
  • Competence.

Protection of participants

Participants of psychological research should not experience physical or psychological harm. Psychologists have to consider the rights and welfare of participants and weigh this up against the benefit or gains of the research. Clearly participants cannot be physically harmed by a study, as this is unjustifiable. Psychologists also have to consider whether the study might cause psychological harm, such as embarrassment, distress, anxiety or concern.

However, it is worth considering the rest of the guidelines, because they are all there to safeguard the physical and psychological wellbeing of participants.


Participants should give consent to taking part of psychological research and, if possible, psychologists should try to fully inform participants about the nature and aim of the study. The purpose of this guideline is to allow participants to refuse permission if they don't want to be part of the study. Without information, participants do not have the knowledge to be able to say no. This can cause distress or embarrassment when they find out later, so consent should be informed consent.

Right to withdraw

Participants should be able to withdraw their consent to take part at any point in the study. If they feel stressed, distressed or embarrassed they should be able to leave the study so they are not harmed.


Participants should not be lied to unless absolutely necessary, because it can make them feel humiliated when they eventually find out. Finding out you have been lied to is not a nice feeling, particularly if the research pressurises you into doing something you would not normally do. Anderson and Dill lied to their participants so that they could test aggression. If the participants had known the truth about the study they might not have been aggressive. Although the…


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