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; http://www.bps.org.uk/sites/default/files/documents/code_of_ethics_and_conduct.pdf )
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.