Are ethics that important?

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Do we really need ethics or do they get in the way?  Before even considering creating a study to research a certain topic the researcher needs to take into account if they will be going against the laws of ethics and if they are able to even start the study if they follow them. These laws are set up by the ‘British psychology society’ (BPS) following the devastating research conflicted in the second world war in the concentration camps this was to make sure the researchers are being honest and respectful towards the results of each individual taking part.

There are five ethical principles; consent, debrief, the right to withdrawal, no harm and no deception. If we look closely at these principles it would be very difficult to follow these and create a study worth doing. We have to deceive so the research shows a realistic result, is this only way to create a study? Milgram’s study of obedience is the perfect example to prove this as if the participants were told what the study entailed the results would be invalid as they would of know the shocks were fake so they would defiantly continue to the maximum voltage so does this make it okay to go against the principles?  Similarly Zimbardo (1971)study  the Stanford prison experiment was extremely unethical however participants admitted they learnt values about themselves so was the study successful? So would these studies be as successful if they followed the laws of ethics?  

Who stays? Who goes? You decide 🙂


10 comments on “Are ethics that important?

  1. cerijayne says:

    I enjoyed reading your blog and how you approached the argument from two different sides; in the sense of why ethics are needed but also when they are not present. When not present results prove to be interesting, such as the results in the Milgram and Zimbardo studies. I like how you finished your blog with a question, therefore giving me the opportunity to voice my opinion more openly.

    I do believe that ethics are essential in the sense of not harming participants and that consent should be gained, along with the right to withdraw, However some of the most fascinating results have come from those studies claimed to not be ethically correct. For instance the Milgram study on social influence of obedience which you touched upon, people view this study as deceptive, morally wrong and that the ethical guidelines were broken. When in fact it was conducted in 1963 in America, this was 10 years before the APA produced its ethical guidelines, the research was also approved by an academic community, therefore can we really say it was actually unethical. Also if we were to take upon the basic concepts of ethics today, for instance was there informed consent, yes the participants agreed to take part by volunteering. Also participants could withdraw at anytime and at the end of the study they were fully debriefed and told that no harm was actually caused. Most importantly the concept of deception, yes they did deceive people, but doesn’t all research use deception to some extent? For example when you walk into a sona study, do you truly know what the research is about before you have finished and been debriefed?

    Therefore to conclude some of the most influencing pieces of work in psychology, have massive ethical question marks above them, so to find something truly influential should ethics not be?

  2. psyalo says:

    Ethics are very important because they ensure the safety of participants and make sure participants do not lose faith in psychology. Without these guidelines, set out by the BPS, psychologists could conduct any type of experiment they like, and have no one to answer to. This could increase the influence of social influence. For example they could be working for someone who said they would take the blame for anything that happened, like in Milgram’s experiment, so if anything went wrong they would not be blamed. Another is job refusal, if work is not published within a set time they may lose their job, ‘publish or perish’. The BPS is able to keep control of situations, if a study does not have ethical approval, then it can not be conducted.
    You mentioned Milgram, he was the first to develop debriefing. Even though debriefing was not compulsory, Milgram still want ahead and fully debriefed the participants that took part in his electric shock experiment, so that none left with the belief that they had harmed the learner, they could even see and talk to the learner if they wished.

  3. dnf24 says:

    Although I feel that ethics are important for participants to not get into something that they hadn’t intended with any problems that they might get from doing the study. Everybody knows the main Psychology studies that cause a lot of conflict and arguments including the Zimbardo study. From a strict BPS rules only view, no even vaguely unethical studies should be carried out for the chance that the participant isn’t as psychologically healthy when they leave the experiment and that some studies shouldn’t be done because of the chance of this happening but is it worth it? Without doing “crazy” studies like these, there would be a lot of human Psychology that we would be completely unaware of. I think that the outcome of studies like Zimbardo’s shouldn’t be ignored for ethical reasons. I believe that the ethics in Psychology should be toned down a bit, for the results that we get just may be life changing for everybody.

  4. terrycurtis says:

    I would have to start by saying that Zimbardos experiment was not unethical, the study just went horribly wrong, as the participants behaved in an unexpected manner. This also includes Zimbardo himself, as he fell into the role of the prison warden. I loved one comment Zimbardo made when he heared a rumour about a planned prison escape; Zimbardo was walking through the University when a fellow lecturer stopped him to ask him a question. Zimbardo says how he was shocked that he was being stopped and asked such a trivial question when he had such important things going on.

    Ethics are needed as the participants well being has to be more important than any piece of research, I would have to say that what was missing in this experiment was the researcher managing to stay neutral, so perhaps we should have researchers watching the researchers

  5. prpdh says:

    This is a really easy read blog that covers all the points and essentially gets the reader to decide on their own. For me ethics should be like this particularly with regards to participant protection and then deception. Now I am not someone who wants to see anyone hurt, however, a researcher cannot know 100% if their participant leaves their study feeling as happy and awesome as when they first arrived – they are not mind readers as no humans have that funky trick as far as i know. Further more with regards to participant protection and children, in my opinion, it is a big issue to consider if ethics want to be so strict then why do they let us work with kids. The parents of a child are not conveying what the child is thinking and for example, they may have been suede due to money and so on by taking part or if they know the researcher. This is shown with little albert – his parents only took part because they knew the researcher. Is research to stringent for this society based on our own experiences – some areas do need re evaluation as to how much they actually do where as deception may need to be toned down as we need this in order to collect the most objective and empirical results which, at the end of the day, is what science is all down to.

  6. cfredlevy says:

    As you mentioned, Zimbardo and Milgrams studies are very good examples of ethically questionable research. They were both very successful in providing us with a lot of successful conclusions. We can look back on them an think they were justified due to their impact on psychology and ethical discussions. However I would argue that if we based all scientific research on a basis of the ends justifying the means then we could very quickly be undertaking very objectionable research. All we would have to do it justify the end product over ethical guidelines and some human rights. It sounds hyperbolic but has happened so many times in history. Other than the main examples of war crimes there are example such as Dr.Sweet (1) who tested uranium on coma victims or Operation Bluebird (2) which tested drugs on the military. Both involved a huge lack of consent and also damage to participants. They were justified through the final conclusions of the research and consent being given for participants by someone else to experiment on individuals. Hopefully these examples show some evidence towards an argument that we should always value ethics and avoid “ends justification” to make sure we avoid hurting people in the pursuit of science. even if the research and conclusions look appropriate and good at the time 🙂


  7. psychblogld says:

    You made some really good points and I agree that at times ethics seems to be taking over research and we worry more about ethical approval then the actual validity of our results. I feel that ethics is certainly a good idea and that it is needed but like everything in this world, a little moderation goes a long way. I recognise that participants need protecting but by taking that too far we can take the realism out of a study which can leave our results almost totally invalid. Sometimes a little deception is needed, as you stated without it many of the past research studies would have been a failure. The hard part in the subject is knowing when there is too much ethical consideration and when there is too little. Each study must be considered individually, however the problem arrises when there has been a president set by an earlier study which then creates heavy restrictions on any future related studies.

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