Ethics in Psychological Researching

28 Sep

Hello all!

Having never previously studied Psychology or written a blog before, when I found out we were to post a weekly Psychological blog I was completely clueless as to what to write. After sitting and thinking for what seemed like hours I remembered something I watched on television a couple of years ago; an experiment called ‘The Milgram Study’. This got me thinking, and led to me wondering if Psychological experiments are always ethical. Or if it is, sometimes, alright for them to be slightly unethical, if they are going to be of great importance in the future. So here we go with blog number 1, of many.

I’m sure that most of us Psychologists would like to think and argue that in this present day and age, Psychological experiments are all ethical and performed safely, with no harm done to any thing or one. But sadly in my opinion the same thing cannot be said about previous experiments that have been carried out in the past.

I do understand that people may have the view that in order to proceed with Psychological discoveries and breakthroughs, sometimes ethics may have to take a backseat. I completely disagree with these people’s opinions! I believe that Psychological experiments are, and should be, carried out to improve every ones quality of life. Unethical experiments, although they may be improving people’s quality of life eventually, generally cause great distress to humans or animals at the time they are conducted.

One experiment, which completely shocked me, was an experiment to an 8-month-old boy, David Reimer, in 1965. After a circumcision being performed on him went wrong, a Psychologist, John Money, advised his parents that the best thing to do was to give David a sex change. The parents trusted the Psychologists advise as he persuaded them it would be easier on David to be brought up as a girl than as a boy without a penis. John Money did not mention that the reason he persuaded David’s parents to allow him to get a sex change, was for an experiment on Nature vs. Nurture. This experiment led to David’s mother becoming suicidal, his father becoming an alcoholic and David’s twin brother being depressed. David then killed himself at the age of 38. This is an example of extreme unethical experimenting, but the outcome of this Psychologists research on the Reimer family was horrific.

I understand that this is an extreme example and most people would agree that the action of John Money were unethical; but it proves that some Psychologists are prepared to put ethics to one side for the benefit of their research.

In conclusion I am going to repeat what I said earlier; I do not believe that Psychological experiments which could cause distress, pain or death to any living being are at all ethical, and I do not agree with them being performed.

Thank you for taking the time to read my post, please feel free to leave me critical comments.


10 Responses to “Ethics in Psychological Researching”

  1. ihmsl September 28, 2011 at 11:29 pm #

    Wow Jessica!!! Your blog is amazing considering you have not study Psychology before. Im very impressed with your argument, you make your point clearly and you used excellent evidence to back up your argument.

  2. racewinner September 29, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    I agree with your point that psychological experiments should be ethical, not causing harm to others in bid of research or bettering the lives of some. However, I would like to stress that some experiments may not set out to be unethical at first, causing undue distress to the participants but may still end up doing so. I feel that one such experiment would be the Stanford Prision Experiment which was actually cleared by the Ethic Code of the American Psychological Association (As seen from Wikipedia) Though we may say that we do not agree to such experiments being performed, the researches had no way of knowing the outcome of such an experiment would be so unethical. As such, I believe that though we may feel that psychological experiments may be ethical nowadays with “no harm” being done to anyone, such may not be necessary true as the outcome of a seemingly ethical experiment may end up with an unethical outcome. Of course, this is only a very small example and I truly believe that most psychologists try to be ethical.

    As i’ve not studied psychology before as well… hopefully this comment makes sense =) Its just my views though…

  3. psue8c September 29, 2011 at 11:08 am #

    Great blog for someone who hasn’t explored Psychology before. I agree with your thoughts in that Psychology shouldn’t fall out of line due to ethical issues. Studies from Milgram, in his study of obedience also had ethical errors due to the psychological and physical harm of patients participating in his study with the use of potentially high voltage electrical shocks, given that they didn’t obey the teacher in the experiment. Ethics should definitely be taken into account, as it may affect the overall performance of a participant or the general outcome of conducted research.

    Ethics are most certainly worth the time consuming days of work to make sure that a piece of research isn’t criticised or challenged due to it’s real nature. Considering the fact that most psychologist do take account of ethics, it must be noted that not all research has a predicted outcome, it may be that in unethical circumstances that during investigation, the findings or the way a participant reacts (experimenter bias- where the participant acts in such a way he/she thinks the researcher wants them to) are extraneous variables that cannot be controlled by the experimenter.
    Therefore in some cases, ethics can’t always be controlled, as it is sometimes out of the experimenter’ hands.

  4. samlyt October 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm #

    Really interesting argument and for the most part i would have to agree that any psychological research should be ethical but i would also have to argue that it depends on how it is unethical. The example you gave of John Money is obviously going to be seen as wrong by most people but it is also like you mentioned an extreme case. If something is going to damage an individual whether it is physically, emotionally or psychologically then i would argree that it is wrong as each individual is important and should not be sacrificed for the greater good. However what about cases where something is classed as unethical just because it deceives the participant or you don’t have their informed consent. Surely if it causes no harm to anyone but you tell them it’s a study on one thing when really it’s a study on something else then maybe that should be allowed if it benefits society. Therefore i would have to say that it depends on the way in which something is unethical as to whether it should prevent a study from taking place.

  5. jessicabibby October 3, 2011 at 9:32 pm #

    Samlyt I completely agree with you! As long as no harm or distress is caused to any one or thing I think it is fine for research to be slightly unethical. As for the example you give of a slightly unethical situation; “it deceives the participant or you don’t have their informed consent”, as long as no harm is done to anyone physically or emotionally I think it would we acceptable to deceive the participant in the interest of an important experiment.

  6. ppp1003 October 4, 2011 at 8:30 am #

    really strong discussion topic, my personal opinion is that what we consider to be ethical and unharmful to subjects today may not be the case in ten years time, this is why I personally find this topic so interesting.

    I completely agree with the point your making about how subjects should not be treated unethically in order for research to progress further, I also strongly agree with racewinner. The example given about David Reimer in 1965 is a clear example of extremely bad ethics, I feel this sort of thing should never be allowed to take plae in the world of research. However when looking at studies such as the Milgram study I feel that, at the time of carrying out his research Milgrams study didn’t neccesarily seem so unethical. Although participants were decieved during Milgrams study and believed for a period of time that they were administrating electric shocks to others alot of the participants still carried on, they never actually suffered physical injury during the experiment, and they were all de-briefed fully after the experiment and informed of what they had actually just been a part of. When tracked down some time later it was discovered that some of the participants had suffered psychological distress due to the fact that they believed they could inflict dangerous levels of pain on others. Milgram never set out to cause any psychological distress, he was merely running an experiment on conformity and obedience .

    I feel that ethics is always going to be a very tricky subject as everything changes so fast in the world of science and within the world as a whole, also the Laws in General are changing all the time, therefore any research carried out today may be considered completely unethical in Ten years time.

    lets just hope that as little distress or harm as possible is caused to any living thing in the name of any future research!

  7. ppp0001 October 4, 2011 at 9:37 am #

    Well done Jessica,you’ve obviously put alot of thought into your blog. I agree that psychological experiments should be ethical and take into consideration the feelings of its participants however the case of the Reimer family is an extreme and horrific case. In some experiments it is necessary for the researcher to hold back information from the participants, this is considered unethical but is also necessary for the experiment to work to its full potential. There is varying degrees as to what is considered acceptable and what is not.

  8. sjb66 October 4, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    Hi Jessica, really enjoyed your blog, some research I hadn’t come across in my limited time looking at psychology. I as we all seem to think that ethics are critical to being a positive psychologist, however there are interpretations of the guidelines and old studies that do break ethical boundaries. The Milgram’s study breached the boundaries by today’s ethical guidelines, however I feel that in the 60’s they still show’d remarkable understanding, although distress was inflicted on the participants they did have an element of debriefing to ofset the deception of the experiment.

  9. zoe3112 October 4, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

    The code of conduct created by the BPS is vitally important when it comes to those psychologists who thought ethics can take a back seat!

    Psychologists should evaluate if it is worth the risk and ethical to deceive participants for the good of the research (to ensure accurate results and to prevent demand characteristics), and at what point it become unethical (when the participant is under too much stress or becomes too anxious) where it is not worth the risk to the participants.

    I don’t believe it is ethical to cause anybody stress, anxiety or loss or confidence that will continue in the participants life after the research experiment was over.

    The code of conduct by the BPS is only guidelines but as professional psychologists, they should be able to use their own ethical judgment to judge whether the research they want to carry out is ethical. In recent years I think most psychologists have an accurate judgment of ethical issues and there are a lot more consequences to being severely unethical (like your example in your blog) these days than there was back then.

  10. katstats October 4, 2011 at 10:43 pm #

    Wow, from reading that you would have never have thought that their was no previous knowledge of studying Psychology. However, I do have to play Devils Advocate on what your saying. In one way, I do completely understand what your saying and yes studys probably shouldn’t be allowed if your going to delibratley hurt someone. But without the unethical studys floating about how would we know anything? Obvioulsy their has got to be some boundarys, but in Social Psych, most of the those ethtical rules probably more than likely will have to be broken at some point or another just to see how far society wil go with something, because if we don’t try it, we will never know until maybe one day something does happen in real life, but it would be nice to know in studys so we can be prepared., take Zimbardo’s prison study for example, (If you don’t know, their should be a very breif synopsis on the web somewhere) Yes he shut his own study down, but they were ‘normal’ people all at equal status, health ect, and just because someone of authority had given them authority their behaviour changed dramatically! Just because they had authority and power. That study has had massive status ever since and has painted rules for future studys. BUT if it hadn’t of happened, and other studys like milgram, lil hans. How would we know? Surely someone soon has to think of a way for studys like these to be done, in an fair and ethical way.

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