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On the Ethics of Psychological Research Essay

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Potter Stewart an associate justice of the United States supreme court once said that “Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do”. He believed in doing things pragmatically instead of impractically and it made him more recognized for his realistic approach to his job. Ethics in life are very important in setting standards of morality and integrity, especially since ethics show the principles and values that one uses to govern their actions.

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Ethics in psychology are very similar to the ethics we follow on a day to day basis. The ethics in psychology often relate to how people are treated when put in experiments in order to complete theories and concepts that are psychology based. When psychology research began many experiments began as well, to test the many beginning theories that came about when psychology was introduced to researchers. The American Psychological Association now has a code of ethics for psychology research due to the fact that many psychologists in the past have violated the safety, belief systems, needs, values, and the overall protection of their participants. The code of ethics that has been put in place by the APA holds all psychologists to the same set of standards and provides a guideline in an attempt to ensure professionalism and respect for all involved and sometimes this doesn’t occur.

The APA published the first ethics code in 1953 that equals about a 16 page document today, but in 1953 it seemed so much larger back then. The reason that the ethics code was written is because ethics in research of psychologists began to be questioned by society for their safety and effectiveness. The research studies that were performed in the past often became public scandals and compromised the principle of research. Following the code of ethics is very important in research. The five reasons to adhere to the code of ethics is to promote the intent of research, promote a basic normality that helps when researchers collaborate, to ensure the liability of the experimenter, to gain more support from the general population, and to promote morality and obligation (Resnik). The overall incentive for the code of ethics according to Resnik is to constantly advocate for effective research while also being consensual. These ethics placed must be followed just to maintain the respects of the rights of research participants, the reputation of psychology, and the dignity of research principles. Another purpose of ethics in research is for the safety of the people involved in the experiment, and the notoriety of psychologists in society. Committees of research must have a code of ethics that discuss the guidelines made by the APA and the personal ethics for the experiment. Some of the most important codes are informed consent, debrief, protection of participants, deception, confidentiality, and ability to withdraw. (Mcleod). According to the research done by Mcleod, the APA is using the code of ethics to protect their name and the reputation they have built, a so to maintain a stability of trust with their experimenters and participants.

There were many unethical procedures after 1953 even though those guidelines had been set. Some of the experiments were very traumatic to patients and almost risked their lives, or could have died or killed each other. One of the many most known unethical experiments that occurred was the Stanford Prison Experiment. This experiment was conducted by Philip Zimbardo in 1971, and the purpose of the experiment was to attempt to understand the development of power norms in society and specifically the effects of roles, labels, and social expectations in a prison environment. Twenty four students were chosen out of 75, half were assigned roles of prisoner and half were assigned the role of guard. In the experiment Zimbardo

made it very realistic for the prisoners, having cops come and arrest them, having rules that they had to follow, but gave the guards no prior training. The end result of the experiment being guards who became consumed in power and behaved in a brutalizing way, and prisoners who became submissive and cowering (Mcleod). While Zimbardo didn’t actually go against any ethical codes while outlining his experiment and he got the experiment approved before conducting it, some believed that his place as the conductor of the experiment was to stop the simulation from getting too abusive which it did, but he didn’t stop it because he was trying to maintain the realism of the experiment, and in the end he felt as though he did what was best for the sake of research. Regardless of this, Zimbardo did go against the ethics code in multiple ways like the fact that the experiment was unpredictable, the guards were drunk, and no steps were taken to avoid harm of his volunteers. He failed to understand that participants are people and should their dignity should be maintained because “respect in research refers to respect for people and respect for truth” (Yousef). Zimbardo’s experiment was evaluated by the APA, where they said that all ethical guidelines were followed. The overall unethicality of the experiment left the participants with long-term scarring mentally and physically, and this is just another reason why ethics are important in research.

Ethics are maintained to provide structure in experiments to promote effective decision making, while also being aware of the benefits and risks of the experiment. In experiments conducted previous to the release of the code of ethics, often times there was a lack of informed consent, pressure on volunteers, risk of safety of participants, deception, and even violation of natural born rights. The whole overall purpose of ethics is to “help researchers grapple with the

ethical dilemmas they are likely to encounter by introducing them to important concepts, tools, principles, and methods that can be useful in resolving these dilemmas” (Resnik). There are five general principles of ethics, which are informed consent, debrief, protection of participants, deception, and ability to withdraw. When it comes to informed consent participants must distinctively say “yes” and give permission to the researcher to be involved in the experiment. The researcher must outline the details of the experiment like the purpose, the possible risks, procedures involved if there are any and many other things. Debriefing is very important in research because it’s where the participants gets to sit down with the research and understand the research, clear up misconceptions and to make sure the participants leaves with the same sense of cognition they arrived with. Along with this goes deception, and participants should not be mislead about the research and though some deception may occur, researchers must attempt to keep it at a minimum. The main thing researchers should be aware of is the protection of their subjects, and participants should not be subject to more harm than they would experience in everyday life. The very last thing is the ability for a participant to leave the experiment whenever they feel like they are in danger or in a extremely uncomfortable situation. These codes of ethics have really made research more controlled and prevent negligence and misconduct. The basics to remember about ethics is that research done by psychologists should meet the criteria for ethics before the experiment is conducted. Subjects should be informed about the dangers and basics of the experiment and provide authorization.

Psychologists do many experiments just because they are unethical and it all starts with what they believe and consider to be right and wrong, and sometimes the extreme involvement in personal research make the research seem less dangerous than it is. Scientist deals with many controversial topics and often stray away from norms and rules to build their theories and strengthen their ideas and beliefs. Our natural instinct often goes against what we think and the code of ethics is put in place to mandates the things that researchers are able to do while conducting an experiment.

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