Ethical Considerations in Psychology Research

Ethical Considerations in Psychology Research
Ethical Considerations in Psychology Research
Ethical issues in psychological research are defined by the general moral positions
held by researchers and the study population (Heffernan, 2015). Some of the questions about
ethical considerations attempt to answer to questions such as “should researchers tolerate
some minimal amount of harm to subjects to advance science?” and “should researchers
deceive subjects during experiments to obtain potentially important and relevant
information?” The question does not only depend on the researchers and subjects views but
also upon their general ethical philosophy (Heffernan, 2015). Every research that involves
physical subjects must address ethical concerns such as respect for persons, beneficence, and
Haslam presents a critique of previous studies done by Milgram and Zimbardo
(Haslam & Reicher, 2012). The studies involved human subjects. The most immediate ethical
concern in Haslam’s paper is plagiarism. In this context, plagiarism refers to using ideas and
words other people without crediting the owners (Haslam & Reicher, 2012). Haslam credited
the studies to Milgram and Zimbardo indicating that he did not claim ownership of the ideas.
The ethical concern arising with Milgram’s and Zimbardo’s studies is justice and beneficence
respectively (Haslam & Reicher, 2012). Milgram’s study recruited predominantly male
volunteer participants against the requirement of justice that research participants are selected
fairly to represent all segments of the population. The ethical consideration of beneficence
was violated because the participants in Milgram’s study was administered with electric
shocks as high as 450V that was fatal to their health. Similarly, Zimbardo’s prison
experiment resulted in abuse meted out to the students who were selected as prisoners by
their fellows who were guards necessitating termination of the study after six days (Haslam &
Reicher, 2012). The experiment violated the ethical standard of beneficence that means to do
no harm, minimize risk and capitalize on benefits of research.
Mischel evidently violated the ethical principle of respect for persons by including
over 500 children at the age of 4 years (Mischel et al., 2011). Respect for persons implies
respecting the autonomy of the human participants through obtaining their informed consent
to participate in the study. According to most legal systems, children below 18 years cannot
give informed consent because they are considered unfit to make informed decisions
(Mischel et al., 2011). The researchers do not discuss how they obtained the participants
informed consent to participate. The principle can be implemented when participants
voluntarily choose to participate in the study as seen in the case of Milgram’s experiment
(Mischel et al., 2011).
In the replicated Asch’s experiment conducted by Larsen, the ethical principle of
respect for persons is not discussed (Larsen, 1974). However, the study selected college
students for the study indicating that the participants are eligible for inclusion in the study.
Larsen did not detail how he provided the participants with information to join the study
voluntarily (Larsen, 1974). The Asch’s research was done against the ethical principle of
justice that requires that the study participants are selected in a manner representative of the
population (Larsen, 1974). The Asch’s experiment consisted entirely of male participants.
The study did not have any consideration for beneficence because no harm was imminent in
the survey.
The other ethical concerns that are imminent in the three studies are trust implying
that the dignity and welfare of the individuals participating in the research is central to the
research. The researcher is responsible for upholding the ethical performance of the research.
The researcher should take additional care when dealing with potentially vulnerable subsets
of the population such as children, inmates, students, employees, pregnant mothers,
psychologically disabled persons, economically underprivileged persons, and terminally ill
Haslam, S. A., & Reicher, S. D. (2012). Contesting the “nature” of conformity: What
Milgram and Zimbardo's studies really show. PLoS Biology, 10(11), e1001426.
Heffernan, T. M. (2015). The Student's Guide to Studying Psychology. Psychology Press.
Larsen, K. S. (1974). Conformity in the Asch experiment. The Journal Of Social Psychology,
94(2), 303-304. doi:10.1080/00224545.1974.9923224
Mischel, W., Ayduk, O., Berman, M. G., Casey, B. J., Gotlib, I. H., Jonides, J., & ... Shoda,
Y. (2011). 'Willpower' over the life span: Decomposing self-regulation. Social
Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 6(2), 252-256. doi:10.1093/scan/nsq081

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