Chapter 3 Ethical Issues in the Conduct of Psychological Research
CHAPTER OUTLINE AND OBJECTIVES
II. Ethical Issues to Consider Before Beginning Research
- Prior to conducting any study, the proposed research must be reviewed to determine if it meets ethical standards.
- Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) review psychological research to protect the rights and welfare of human participants.
- Institutional Animal Care and Use committees (IACUCs) review research conducted with animals to ensure that animals are treated humanely.
III. The Risk/Benefit Ratio
- A subjective evaluation of the risks and benefits of a research project is used to determine whether the research should be conducted.
A. Determining Risk
· Potential risks in psychological research include risk of physical injury, social injury, and mental or emotional stress.
· Risks must be evaluated in terms of potential participants’ everyday activities, their physical and mental health, and capabilities.
B. Minimal Risk
· A study is described as having “minimal risk” when the procedures or activities in the study are similar to those experienced by participants in their everyday life.
C. Dealing with Risk
· Whether “at risk” or “at minimal risk,” research participants must be protected. More safeguards are needed as risks become greater.
· To protect participants from social risks, information they provide should be anonymous, or if that is not possible, the confidentiality of their information should be maintained.
IV. Informed Consent
- Researchers and participants enter into a social contract, often using an informed consent procedure.
- Researchers are ethically obligated to describe the research procedures clearly, identify any potential risks that might influence individuals’ willingness to participate, and answer any questions participants have about the research.
- Research participants must be allowed to withdraw their consent at any time without penalties.
- Individuals must not be pressured to participate in research.
- Research participants are ethically obligated to behave appropriately during the research by not lying, cheating, or engaging in other fraudulent behavior.
- Potential research participants must be made aware of all aspects of the study that may influence their willingness to participate.
- Informed consent must be obtained from legal guardians for individuals unable to provide consent (e.g., young children, mentally impaired individuals); assent to participate should be obtained from individuals unable to provide informed consent.
- Researchers should consult with knowledgeable others, including an IRB, when deciding whether to dispense with informed consent, such as when research is conducted in public settings. These settings require special attention to protecting individuals’ privacy.
- Privacy refers to the rights of individuals to decide how information about them is to be communicated V. Deception in Psychological Research
· Deception in psychological research occurs when researchers withhold information or intentionally misinform participants about the research. By its nature, deception violates the ethical principle of informed consent.
- Deception is a necessary research strategy in some psychological research.
- Deceiving individuals in order to get them to participate in the research is always unethical.
- Researchers must carefully weigh the costs of deception against the potential benefits of the research when considering the use of deception.
- Researchers are ethically obligated to explain to participants their use of deception as soon as is feasible.
· Researchers are ethically obligated to seek ways to benefit participants even after the research is completed. One of the best ways to accomplish this goal is by providing participants with a thorough debriefing.
· Debriefing benefits both participants and researchers.
· Debriefing informs participants about the nature of the research and their role in the study and educates them about the research process. The overriding goal of debriefing is to have individuals feel good about their participation.
· Debriefing allows researchers to learn how participants viewed the procedures, allows potential insights into the nature of the research findings, and provides ideas for future research.
VII. Research with Animals
- Animals are used in research to gain knowledge that will benefit humans, for example, by helping to cure diseases.
- Researchers are ethically obligated to acquire, care for, use, and dispose of animals in compliance with current federal, state, and local laws and regulations, and with professional standards.
- The use of animals in research involves complex issues and is the subject of much debate.
VIII. Reporting of Psychological Research
· Investigators attempt to communicate their research findings in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and the APA Code of Ethics provides guidelines for this process.
· Decisions about who should receive publication credit are based on the scholarly importance of the contribution.
· Ethical reporting of research requires recognizing the work of others by using proper citations and references; failure to do so may result in plagiarism.
· Proper citation includes using quotation marks when material is taken directly from a source and citing secondary sources when an original source is not consulted.
IX. Steps for Ethical Decision Making
REVIEW QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
REVIEW QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
These review questions appear in the textbook (without answers) at the end of Chapter 3, and can be used for a homework assignment or exam preparation. Answers to these questions appear in italic.
1. Explain why researchers submit research proposals to Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) or Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs) before beginning a research project, and briefly describe the functions of these committees in the research process.
Prior to conducting research, the proposed study must be reviewed to determine if it meets ethical standards. Moreover, researchers must obtain approval from host institutions prior to conducting research. IRBs review psychological research to safeguard the rights and welfare of human participants. Similarly, IACUCs review procedures for research involving animals, but they also monitor animal living quarters and the training of personnel who work directly with animals. The make-up and duties of IRBs and IACUCs are federally mandated at institutions that seek research funds from specific federal agencies. (pp. 62–63)
2. Explain how the risk/benefit ratio is used in making ethical decisions. What factors contribute to judging the potential benefits of a research project?
The risk/benefit ratio rests on a subjective evaluation of the possible risks for participants and the possible benefits for individuals and for society. Members of an IRB closely review the nature of the participants, methodology, and likely outcomes for a study when making their evaluation. This review seeks to determine whether valid and interpretable results will be produced by the study and, if serious risk is present, whether alternative, low-risk procedures could be substituted. The potential scientific and social value of the research, such as new knowledge and treatments to improve people’s lives, are considered potential benefits of research. (pp. 63–64)
3. Explain why research cannot be risk free and describe the standard that researchers use to determine whether research participants are “at risk.” Describe briefly how characteristics of the participants in the research can affect the assessment of risk.
Life itself is a risky business, which means that everyday activities all involve some degree of risk. Decisions about what constitutes risk must take into consideration those risks that are part of everyday life. A study is said to involve “minimal risk” when the procedures or activities in the study are similar to those experienced by participants in their everyday lives. Characteristics of the participants must be considered when evaluating risk because activities or procedures may pose a serious risk for some individuals but not others. (pp. 64–65)
4. Differentiate among the three possible types of risk that can be present in psychological research: physical, psychological, social. How do researchers typically safeguard against the possibility of social risk?
Physical risk exists when there is the possibility of physical injury as when bodily harm is threatened. Psychological risk exists when the procedures in the research are likely to induce serious mental or emotional stress. The potential for social risk exists when information gained about an individual through her or his participation in psychological research is revealed to others. Social risk may be safeguarded by obtaining information from participants anonymously, or if that is not possible, by ensuring the confidentiality of their responses. (p. 65)
5. What are three important ethical issues raised by online research?
Three important ethical issues in this context are protecting confidentiality, informed consent, and debriefing. Confidentiality of participants’ responses may be an issue if researchers do little to protect the data from electronic eavesdropping or hacking. When participants “click” on a button to indicate their informed consent, it is difficult for researchers to know whether participants are of legal age and truly read and understood the consent procedure. For debriefing, because individuals can easily withdraw their participation at any time, they may not learn about the study at its natural conclusion (pp. 67, 70–71, 81)
6. Explain why deception may sometimes be necessary in psychological research. Describe briefly the questions researchers should ask before using deception, and describe the conditions under which it is always unethical to deceive participants.
Some kinds of research cannot be done without withholding information from participants about aspects of the research; in other situations it may be necessary to misinform participants in order to have them adopt certain attitudes or behaviors. Before using deception, a researcher should ask whether the scientific importance of the study justifies the deception, if there are alternative deception-free methods available, and how serious (“noxious”) is the deception. It is unethical to deceive human participants for the purpose of getting them to participate in research in which they would not normally take part or in which there is serious risk. (pp. 5–76).
7. In what ways can debriefing benefit the participant? In what ways can debriefing benefit the researcher?
The benefits of debriefing to the participants are to remove any harmful effects or misconceptions about participation, to educate participants about the research, to have participants leave with positive feelings about their participation, and to provide an opportunity for participants to learn about research in general. The benefits of debriefing for the researchers are that it provides an opportunity to find out how the participants viewed the situation and treatments that were administered. (pp. 79–81)
8. What ethical obligations are specified in the APA Ethics Code for researchers who use animals in their research?
Researchers working with animals are obligated to acquire, care for, use, and dispose of animals in compliance with federal, state, and local laws, and with professional standards. Researchers are also obligated to see that only individuals experienced in the use of laboratory animals supervise procedures with animals and to ensure that all those working under their supervision have received instructions in the care, maintenance, and housing of the species being use to the extent appropriate to their role. Psychologists make reasonable efforts to minimize the discomfort, infection, illness, and pain of animal subjects. (p. 83)