TOWIE- the only way is ethics.

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Research Methods in Psychology


What follows is meant as a summary or brief overview only of this topic area.  It is essential that a combination of class exercises and/or texts are used with the notes to provide a fuller understanding of the issues covered.  Easily the best way of learning research methods is a combination of reading followed by practise.  Read a section, e.g. on levels of data and then practise what you’ve just learned by answering questions on the topic.  Questions on the paper will require short response answers.

Government Health warning: The following information does contain sums and other material likely to cause offence to the squeamish.  However, I’ll endeavour to keep the aforementioned to an absolute minimum and will, wherever possible avoid the gratuitous use of numbers!


Ethical issues in Psychological research

Ethics are the moral codes laid down by professional bodies to ensure that their members or representatives adhere to certain standards of behaviour.  All scientific bodies have such codes but those in psychology are particularly important because of the subject matter of the topic.

1.       Psychology is unlike most other subject areas in that its subject matter is entirely human or animal.  Because of this practically all research involves living things that can be caused physical or psychological harm.

2.       Psychological research also needs to consider the wider community.  Milgram’s research taught us something unpleasant about the human race in general.  Some research, for example studies on IQ, have been used to discriminate against different races or ethnic groups.  It could be argued that Bowlby’s research was used to discriminate against women, making them feel guilty for not being at home caring for their children. 

3.       The knowledge gained from psychological research can be exploited by people or groups to gain an advantage over others.  Skinner’s work on behaviour shaping could be abused in this way.

Protecting the individual in psychological research

Many of the ideas mentioned in this section will be raised as we cover other topics later in the year and particularly in the last topic on social influence. 

  • Deception
  • Consent (informed or not)
  • Protection of participants from physical and psychological harm
  • The right to withdraw
  • The right to withdraw data
  • Confidentiality and Privacy

We shall then consider ways of determining whether or not studies should take place, and strategies for minimising risks if they do.


Examples of studies involving deception: Asch, Milgram, Cruchfield

Deception involves either concealing the real intention of a study from participants or taking steps to mislead them at the outset.  All of the examples above used the second ploy, deliberately lying to participants about the genuine reason for a study.  Two of them also used stooges or confederates (people pretending to be participants who are really part of the experimental set up).  The use of stooges always means deception has been used.

However, is deception necessary?  The researchers above would all argue that their experiments could not have taken place without it. 


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