When carrying out research in psychology, researchers must make sure they stick to the ethical code of practice as they are dealing with human beings and animals sometimes. The word ethics can be defined as “rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally good and bad”. The purpose of these ethical considerations is to protect participants from harm in any research that is conducted. Examples of these ethical considerations are consent from participants, confidentiality, as well as deception and mental and physical stress. Different methods of research such as experiments and observations are used to investigate different theories at SCLOA. Ethics are important in SCLOA because they help researchers perform morally correct studies that lead to better and more accurate results. This essay will outline and discuss the ethical considerations (deception, consent, protection of participants…) in relation to research studies at the social critical level of analysis. Deception is one of the most commonly used ethical considerations in psychological experiments. It is when the participants in an experiment are misled about the aims of the study they are taking part of, or they are not fully aware of the events that are going to take place in the studies. If a participant gives consent by deception, then the participant has agreed to be part of something they do not know about. A participant must be told about the true nature of the experiment as soon as possible or during debriefing. In order for researchers to acquire information about certain psychological tendencies, deceptive methods are a must in some studies. One of the most well known experiments using deception was by Stanley Milgram in 1963 and was on people’s tendency to obey authority. He wanted to see to what extent participants would go in order to obey and authoritative figure.
He has 40 male participants between the age of 20 and 50 and paid them to take part of the study. There were two confederates of Milgram, one of the experimenters played a biology teacher and the other a learner. The teacher was the chosen participant who then had to send (fake) electric shocks to the learner. The shocks started from 15 volts all the way up to fatal shocks of 450 volts. The experimented did not make it clear to the participant (teacher) that he may withdraw, therefore whenever the teacher would stop the experimenter would say ‘please continue’, ‘the experiment requires that you continue’, ‘you have no other choice you must go on’. Milgram found that 65% if the participants went all the way to 450 volts and 35% did not continue. Some of the participants showed signs of nervousness while some physically hurt themselves and even had seizures due to the stress. They were then debriefed and told that no harm was caused to participants. Although Milgram came up with the conclusion that a large amount of participants went to extreme levels to obey the authorities figure (biology teacher), this study was listed down to be extremely unethical due to deception and other ethical considerations. But without the deception Milgram would not have been able to avoid demand characteristics. Without the deception the findings of this experiment would have been useless.
The fact that the participants were having seizures and harming themselves also leads us to another ethical consideration: protection from harm. Although the study did not include any mental or physical harm being implied to participants, they were harming themselves due to the stressful situation they were in. Milgram also did not make it clear to the participants that they had the right to withdraw; this is also one of the ethical considerations. But the participants had the right to leave if they wanted to, as they were not forced to continue the experiment. Although Milgrams study lacks ecological validity, it shows high experimental realism due to the stress and tension showed by the participants in the experiments. Another one of the ethical considerations is protection from physical and mental harm. Protection from harm means that researchers must make sure the people taking part in the study should not be harmed physically or mentally. Another study by Zimbaro in 173 did not meet this ethical consideration. Zimbardo and his team were trying to investigate the effect of assigning the role of a prisoner or guard to certain people. Therefore he set up a prison with 24 mentally and physically stable men and divded them to prisoners and guards. Zimbardo conducted a filed experiment and observed through video, audiotape and direct observation. The guards were given whistles, wooden bats, sunglasses and uniform while the prisoners had no personal belongings and were given prison uniform with ankle chains and rubber sandals. The results showed that the guards had become hostile and found creative ways to be cruel while the prisoners showed negative emotions and even had extreme depression and anxiety. The Zimbardo experiment did not protect the participants from physical or mental harm in anyway.
The guards were given the right to do what they wanted but were informed not to physically abuse the prisoners by Zimbardo. One of the participants had started having outbursts and showed deep depression; therefore he had to leave the experiment in 36 hours. The guards found ways to punish the prisoners without physically hurting them by making them clean out toilets with their bare hands, and even cut down their privileges (meals, showers…). These actions caused many of the prisoner’s depression; stress and anxieties meaning they were not protected from mental harm and may have suffered in the long term after the experiment. The fact that Zimbardo gave the guards the right to treat the prisoners however they wanted made the experiment as realistic as possible. The results he received may have been valid due to the fact that he had no control over the participant’s behavior and could then come up a valid conclusion. A limitation of this experiment was that he did not meet the ethical considerations in relation to physical and mental harm, but if he did not give the guards the freedom to act however they wanted the results would have been unreliable as well as unrealistic. There were other ethical considerations that were not met in this experiment such as: deception, but Zimbardo states that deception only took place when the prisoners were ‘arrested’ in the beginning of the experiment. One of the most popular ethical considerations is known as informed consent. A researcher must inform the participants about what they are going to take part in and must also receive permission.
Participants must sign a form containing the possible risks and description of the study. Consent is important as it warns the participants about all the pros and cons of participating in the study. Leon Festinger carried out one the most well known overt observations in 1956. A covert observation means that the participants are not aware they are being watched, meaning there is no informed consent. Leon came up with ‘the theory of cognitive dissonance’ and wanted to investigate whether he could prove his theory right or wrong. Festinger and his team wanted to investigate a religious cult that believe the world would end on the 21st of December. The cult was isolated from non-believers therefore Festinger had to join the cult in order to observe them. When no disaster occurred on December 21st, the group believed that god had sent them a message telling them he had saved them due to their prayers. Festinger’s theory was then proven to be correct due to the fact that the cult became even closer after the incident. This cult was not aware that they were being observed by a number of researchers. They accepted Festinger and believed that he was part of this religious cult meaning that they shared their beliefs and thoughts with him as well as trusted him. An advantage of him not telling the cult that he was observing them was that he got to witness all of their debates and meeting without having to deal with demand characteristics meaning that the information gathered from this observation is accurate. But a few disadvantages such as the fact that the group was being observed without knowing it and approving it does not make the observation ethical.
The cult may have also felt betrayed and could have denied Festinger to publish any of the information gathered. If the participants did give consent, they may have not treated Festinger as a part of their cult, but just as a researcher meaning that their behavior may have changed accordingly. When it comes to the socio cultural level of analysis, ethical consideration are important to follow as they help insure the safety and well being of participants taking part in studies. They protect humans from being deceived, they give them the right to withdraw from experiments, and even protect them from physical and mental harm. Although it is almost impossible for most experiments and observations to occur without meeting a few ethical considerations due to the fact that their findings would then be vague or useless, researchers must try meeting all the ethical considerations. For example in Festinger’s observation he had to create an overt observation in order to observe the cults natural behavior, otherwise the entire observation would have gone wrong. Therefore it is somewhat essential for us to uphold some of these considerations in order to come up with conclusions when it comes to the sociocultural aspects of human behavior.
Courtney from Study Moose
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