- A wide variety of ethical issues arise in psychological research. Thinking them through requires considering how each of four moral principles (weighing risks against benefits, acting responsibly and with integrity, seeking justice, and respecting people’s rights and dignity) applies to each of three groups of people (research participants, science, and society).
- Ethical conflict in psychological research is unavoidable. Researchers must think through the ethical issues raised by their research, minimize the risks, weigh the risks against the benefits, be able to explain their ethical decisions, seek feedback about these decisions from others, and ultimately take responsibility for them.
- There are several written ethics codes for research with human participants that provide specific guidance on the ethical issues that arise most frequently. These codes include the Nuremberg Code, the Declaration of Helsinki, the Belmont Report, and the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects.
- The APA Ethics Code is the most important ethics code for researchers in psychology. It includes many standards that are relevant mainly to clinical practice, but Standard 8 concerns informed consent, deception, debriefing, the use of nonhuman animal subjects, and scholarly integrity in research.
- Research conducted at universities, hospitals, and other institutions that receive support from the federal government must be reviewed by an institutional review board (IRB)—a committee at the institution that reviews research protocols to make sure they conform to ethical standards.
- Informed consent is the process of obtaining and documenting people’s agreement to participate in a study, having informed them of everything that might reasonably be expected to affect their decision. Although it often involves having them read and sign a consent form, it is not equivalent to reading and signing a consent form.
- Although some researchers argue that deception of research participants is never ethically justified, the APA Ethics Code allows for its use when the benefits of using it outweigh the risks, participants cannot reasonably be expected to be harmed, there is no way to conduct the study without deception, and participants are informed of the deception as soon as possible.
- It is your responsibility as a researcher to know and accept your ethical responsibilities.
- You can take several concrete steps to minimize risks and deception in your research. These include making changes to your research design, prescreening to identify and eliminate high-risk participants, and providing participants with as much information as possible during informed consent and debriefing.
- Your ethical responsibilities continue beyond IRB approval. You need to monitor participants’ reactions, be alert for potential violations of confidentiality, and maintain scholarly integrity through the publication process.
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