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Haven’t done an ethics one yet so…..

When the general public think about ethics and what they mean it is more than likely that they will just assume it’s making sure that things are morally right. We as Psychologists know that there is far more to it than that. In fact there is a criteria when using ethics in Psychology and other subjects/professions. Firstly we need to consider the age of the participant and rules state that if they are under a certain age they cannot sign a consent form themselves, so must have an appropriate parent or guardian adult to do so. This is not just for the safety of them, but also to ensure that if anything does happen to go wrong then other authorities know they volunteered to participate and were not forced to do so under false pretences. Another way to remove this uncertainty is through an instruction form which the participant can read so they have an idea of what is expected from them without enough information to be able to corrupt results if they do so desire.

When allowing participants to perform in experiments we must not say they cannot do so unless we have a valid reason. Ethics can be linked to morals in the sense that we must not discriminate but need to keep an eye out to see if there is anything untoward. Why is it then that we need consent and other forms displaying willingness and don’t just go out onto the streets and ask people if they are willing to participate in an experiment? Maybe we don’t want them to affect our results by not knowing enough about the subject? (Although this may still occur regardless of participant knowledge).Is it that we would rather have people in the same situation as us? Well actually in many cases this does happen, just not as frequently any more thanks to new and improved technology. The internet and television have been around a few decades now, but research has been ongoing longer still. Advancement in computer software and complex new gadgets have allowed psychologists and other scientists to become more in-depth in their readings and results. This does not affect the treatment of ethics, but has enabled the rules and regulations to become more widely known, thus reducing the risk of danger for both parties involved.

Previously, experiments took place with high amounts of risk and little regard for the safety of others. They did however prove influential in increasing the strictness of cautions when it came to a situation that could be harmful to another person. Nowadays ethics are used in all aspects of life from the hiring and firing of staff to teaching methods, right through to experiments inside and outside of laboratories. Without ethics in things such as statistics it would be harder to know what is acceptable and what can be deemed as inappropriate. Therefore complying by ethical rules may seem tedious but in the long run is highly beneficial to all involved.


9 responses to “Haven’t done an ethics one yet so…..

  1. You touched upon the fact that children under a certain age have to have informed consent from an adult or guardian but is this really fair? The children are likely to be unaware of what they are actually participating in and therefore can cause them stress and discomfort. For example in Bandura’s study on aggression where the children showed signs of stress including tantrums and crying. Also in children studies the ethical guideline of debriefing is a dodgy one, as if the parents are debriefed are they honestly going to pass this information on to children in a way that will calm them down? Also how can we be certain that there are no long term effects for example ‘Little Albert’ and the development of rat phobia.

    You also didn’t touch on the major ethic of deception. Many studies break this ethical guideline in order to make sure confounding variables such as social desirability and demand characteristics don’t affect the results. In Milgram’s study on they were deceived and didn’t give informed consent but still 84% reported being happy to have taken part in study when debriefed.

    Ethics are used in everyday life yes, however in Psychology they are almost like laws set by the BPS and is something we are all likely to have issues with throughout our degree and career. In conclusion i believe some ethical guidelines are more important then others like protecting participants from harm other consent and as long as we ensure participants are debriefed and the pros and cons of breaking some ethical guidelines are weighed out, then it is okay. Otherwise it would be hard to study human behaviour in a reliable and valid way.

  2. raw2392

    An interesting blog on ethics, well done. However after attending POPPS on Monday, I was shown a whole new light into ethics and how sometimes people may blow the whole procedure out of proportion. When taking into consideration Milgram’s study into obedience; a group of psychologists agreed that his study met ethical approval both before and after the study and that he met each guideline appropriately. Participants were allowed to leave at any time they wished (only 65% of participants actually completed the study to the end) and the debriefing service he provided was second to none, no participant was allowed to leave the experiment believing that they had harmed a human being he also provided after care for a duration of time after the completed experiment. Contrast this to a study the American government carried out called the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, a study over a period of 40 years in which 201 black people died of syphilis, a disease they did not know they had. They were informed they were being treated for having ‘bad blood’. This study did not meet any ethical approval guidelines whereas Milgram’s did, yet Milgram’s is listed as the 8th most unethical study of its time.
    I agree with the point you made about the information sheet, this sheet is often disregarded and just handed over awaiting a signature for the experiment to proceed. The information sheet needs to be well balanced and explain things in a way the participant will fully understand. However, there are often times in experiments were deception is needed, and therefore the information sheet will not provide the full details of the experiment.
    Again with your point of discrimination being avoided by using these ethical guidelines… do you not agree that all psychological experiments experience some form of discrimination when they state which category of participants they wish to include in their research, if there is not an equal opportunity for the general population to take part.
    More information on the Tuskegee study can be found here
    Overall, a really good blog that provided information on all aspects of ethics

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  5. psuc98

    Your initial points about consent could have been furthered to discuss the disadvantages of a person giving their consent to every experiment they take part in, it can produce demand characteristics to let people know exactly what the experiment is on for example if you were told an experiment was on reaction time you may be make more effort to speed up your reactions. A lot of research can easily become invalid because participants know what is being tested and act differently according to it; you can get around this by debriefing them at the end but this is technically deception and does not follow the ethical rules; it’s an interesting debate of when ethical rules should be broken ‘for the greater good’ and if they ever should be; some of the most influential findings such as Milgram and Zimbardo would not have been possible with fully ethical procedures however they changed the way we look at psychology and human behaviour.

    Even something as simple as signing a consent form can be unethical, do we have to make sure they read it properly? How do we know they understood it?

  6. psucb9

    Hello, that was an interesting blog on ethics and it reminded me of a lecture we did in research skills last semester. Erin highlighted the 5 principles of ethics being Beneficence, justice, respect for others, fidelity and integrity.
    Beneficence refers to research contributing to the good of society and the benefits to society need to outweigh the costs to individuals partaking in the study.
    Justice needs to be given to the participant, ie everyone has a right to take part and no-one should be discriminated against.
    Respect needs to be given to particpants, for example confidentiality is vital in psychological research.
    Fidelity is key in an investigation as participants trust that experimenters have the knowledge and experiece to know what they are doing.
    And finally, integrity needs to be kept as the experimenter needs to ensure that they are honest and accurate to the best of their ability.

    To help us do this there are organisations such as BPS and APA which guide psychologists with the rules of ethics.

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  8. ruthtanti

    The BPS have done a good job in summarising the ethical code of conduct that Psychologists (and psychology students) have to adhere to when conducting studies/experiments. The long list of principles consist of things like informed consent, and codes about the ages of participants; as you have mentioned.
    But the BPS still does not include some topics of research, for example when I searched the BPS code of conduct for anything to do with genes and genetics. nothing came up. It could therefore be argued that the BPS may not be able to control for everything with the code of ethics they require Psychologists to adhere to.

    However, these ethical codes were created for a reason and have probably been very beneficial for not only subjects or participants of experiments but for the experimenters or even psychologists themselves. These ethical guidelines are something which all psychology students are taught and made aware of early on; ensuring that each individual who may go on to work in the field of psychology has the same ethical codes by which to practice. This unity of morals and ethics will help other researchers to understand the conditions they need to adhere to when practising psychology and also allow them to be safe in the knowledge that any other type of research will have had to adhere to same code of conduct; all research since the BPS code of conduct became mandatory for researchers.

  9. elrucron

    Ethical guidelines have created a universal set of standardised rules which help keep moral order in psychological research. This is important, but I would also like to extent your outline to talk about the effect this has on research, which was not touched upon. It would be surely easier to ignore ethical guidelines completely, doing so would allow complete and accurate observations of behaviour. Removal of the overreaching generalisation found in applied research, which uses small scale situational responses to predict similar behaviour in extreme situations, would undoubtedly increase the reliability of research. This mindset was seen in earlier studies, such as Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison experiment, which did not end well for anybody (except maybe for Zimbardo, who even himself did not expect such vast deviations in behaviour!). There is a tradeoff in research, where ethical restrictions make it harder for researchers to observe certain behaviours where, for example, extreme deception may be deemed necessary to simulate an accurate representation of response. The question is then, where do we draw the line? This is what the APA have striven to find, the moral cut-off point which maximises participant safety but minimises scientific sacrifice. Have we found it? Obviously, dropping ethics is out of the question, but we must remember the negative impact this has on psychological research.

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