Lets start from the top; Ethics is defined as a code of practice within a research field, to protect its participants from harm. The ethical code is deemed to be a moral standard of behaviour and must be followed to diminish any threat posed towards those who have agreed to take part in a study.

The British Psychological Society (BPS) constantly implements a Code of Conduct within the psychological community to maintain professionalism and excellence, and since 1985 this code has been revised and updated to move forward with the changes in society. As undergraduates we know the main set of rules which we must attempt to abide by. These are;

Informed Consent – Before any research can begin each participant must be aware of; the purpose of the research, the procedure involved, all foreseeable risks (including both physical and psychological risks), benefits of the research to society and possibly to the individual, the length of time that is expected for the study to take, and any contact details for answers to possible questions that could arise after the study has finished.

Debriefing – All participants must be thoroughly debriefed once the study has ended. They should be aware of the aim of the study as well as what their part in the study has achieved. If a researcher has needed to deceive a participant for any reason (mainly to decrease likelihood of demand characteristics) then they must be told how this was necessary. Lastly, any question asked must be answered fully and honestly to diminish any threat that the participant feels deceived in any possible way.

Protections of Participants – Researchers must adhere to the code that participants must not be caused distress. This means that you must not embarrass, frighten, offend, or harm the participant, and the scale is normally maintained that “participants should not be exposed to risks greater than or additional to those encountered in their normal lives”.

Deception – This is basically where participants are misled or wrongly informed about the aims of the research. Milgram’s study is a perfect example to use here, (you all know the in’s and out’s by now, but it must be done) those participants that were involved in his study believed they were giving electrical shocks to a learner if they responded with an incorrect answer, however in truth an actor was simply faking being electrocuted. As already stated above this is sometimes necessary to avoid demand characteristics, and to help increase the validity and ecological validity within the study. In reality of today’s ethical code, participants must be deceived as little as possible and all deceptions must not cause distress. Objections to deception found today are;

1) Violates individual’s rights to choose to participate

2) A questionable bias on which to build a discipline

3) Leads to distrust of psychology in society

(Although the above is a quick overview, I believe they explain themselves well but if you would like to further research this here is the link; )

Confidentiality – Obviously, all data retrieved from the study must be kept confidential and anonymous unless a participant gives their full consent, however no names should be included in a research report.

Withdrawal from an Investigation – From the onset of any research study participants must be aware of the right to withdraw, even at the end of the investigation they have the right to refuse for their data to be used.

The BPS recognizes it’s obligation to set and uphold the highest standard of professionalism, and to promote ethical behaviour, attitudes, and judgement on our part by;

  • Being mindful of the need for protection of the public
  • Expressing clear ethical principles
  • Promoting such standards by education and consultation
  • Developing and implementing methods to help psychologists monitor their professional behaviour and attitudes
  • Assisting psychologists with ethical decision making, and
  • Providing opportunities for discourse on these issues.

Code of Ethics and Conduct, Guidance published by the Ethics Committee of the British Psychological Society, August (2009)

I understand that many of you (who actually decide to read this blog, to which I thank you if you have. I know how dull these things can be) will be happy with the use and implementation of such rules. As a fan of social psychology I once believed that such rules should be considered when beginning research however not necessarily enforced due to the lack of “real” findings, but in hindsight I find that this Code can bend to the needs of the psychologist if it is seen “fit” to.


4 responses to “Ethics!

  • raw2392

    Really good blog, sometimes its good to go over the simpler things in psychology that we get drummed into us, just to recap and make sure we know everything we are meant to about this subject.
    However, i think you could have gone into more depth about the arguments ethics can cause and how sometimes the guidelines have to be broken in order for results to be gained.
    Take for example, the Asch line study (1951), he had to deceive his participants in order to get the results into conformity that he wished to gain. Its important to note that no participants were harmed during the experiment and all of them were debriefed afterwards to make sure they fully understood what they had taken place in and left in the same psychological state they arrived in.
    Or for example, informed consent.. the guidelines state that informed consent must be gained from participants before the experiment takes place, but what about Mary Ainsworth’s stranger situation (1970), how can the consent be fully gained when the participants were children, the consent had to be gained from the parents of these children. How could the parents be sure that the children were happy to participate?
    However, the arrival of ethical guidelines were much needed to stop studies such as the monster study (1939) in which the speech ability and treatment of adopted children were changed and altered with, or the experiment using Little Albert (1920) in which a child was psychologically damaged and then allowed to leave the study before being debriefed.
    In conclusion, i believe the arrival of ethics was much needed in psychology, but it is important to note that some of these guidelines need to be broken in order to achieve results, some of the theories gained from these studies have been of great impact to further studies. I believe that informed consent, debriefing, right to withdraw and confidentiality must be reached at al times to protect the wellbeing of the participants.

  • smmitch

    There have been many blogs on ethics, all quite different yet all informative. There have been many controversial studies conducted that have violated ethics guidelines, like the Guinea pig kids of New York

    This is absolutely disgusting, to watch a child suffer like this in the name of research is wrong on so many levels. These HIV children were taken from their homes by the government and tested on like lab rats, given no indication that they were human experiments, these children were not just tested with HIV drugs but were infected with Herpes and double doses of the measles vaccine to mention but a few. This case was highlighted by the BBC in November 2004, this is one of many recent downfalls of ethics failing. We as researchers have a pledge to our participants that what we are conducting is within ethics guidelines. It is our duty to make sure no harm comes to these participants. Children, animals and prisoners of war seem to be the ones that ethics fail the most. Ethics is a hugh area that covers, researchers, participant, and animals.

    But how far as a researcher are we prepared to go to prove or disprove a theory? We all shudder at the mere mention of the Milgram experiment, but Milgram followed all ethical guidelines that were laid down at the time of his experiment, if he was to conduct the same experiment now then numerous ethical guidelines would be violated, but if he conducted this today and followed all guidelines, would we have had the same response to his experiment that he got? The violation of ethics seem to go from one extreme to another, either they are to tight or just not followed. A happy medium is needed to balance out what is right for the participant and what is right for the research.

  • psych31

    I live this blog as ethics is clearly there as a protection system for those engaging in psychological reaerch. it has come to my attention that ethics doesn’t always protect the most vulnerable people as shown in the video above. It seems that the American Military use psychologist in their interrogation technique to overlook their procedures which worries me greatly as known the procedures in places such as Guantanamo bay aren’t exactly kosher…… this brings makes me consider the question does psychological ethics apply outside the real world in psychiol,ogio9ical power or is it overruled by greater powers.

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