Ethics in Research

Psychological research follows extensive ethical guidelines.

Ethical Standards in Human Research

In human research, key issues include the use of informed consent, the participants’ right to privacy, the degree of psychological and social risk, and the use of deception.

1. Informed Consent

According to the American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines of informed consent, research participants should be:

  • given a full description of the procedures to be followed,
  • informed about any risks that might be involved, and
  • told that they are free to withdraw from a study at any time without penalty.

When people who are not able to give true informed consent are involved (e.g. children, seriously disturbed mental patients, etc.), consent must be obtained from parents or guardians.

2. Right to Privacy

To safeguard a participant’s right to privacy, researchers must consider the setting in which a behavior will be studied (public or private) and the manner in which the information will be released (anonymity and confidentiality).

3. Psychological Risk

Psychologists must consider the degree to which research procedures may expose someone to significant mental or emotional stress.

4. Social Risk

Psychologists must ask if information recorded about individual participants could become known to others, and anticipate negative consequences that might arise for the participant.

5. Deception

Deception occurs when participants are misled about the nature of a study. It is a highly controversial topic. Proponents argue that, when studying certain types of behavior, deception is the only way to obtain natural, spontaneous responses from participants. Because it violates the principle of informed consent, it may only be used when a study has scientific, educational, or applied benefits that clearly outweigh the ethical costs of deceiving participants. When deception is used, the true purpose of the study should be explained to participants after their role in the study is finished.

Ethical Standards in Animal Research

Ethical guidelines require that animals be treated humanely and that the risks they are exposed to be justified by the potential importance of the research. Animal research involving pain and death is controversial.




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