Psych 311 Unit 6 Study Guide

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Research Ethics

  • Responsibility of all researchers
  • Involves being honest and respectful of all individuals who are affected by their research study or reports of study results
  • The American Psychological Association (APA) sets ethical guidelines for psychological research

Primary Responsibilities

Protecting Individuals

  • Researchers have the responsibility to ensure the welfare and dignity of individuals
  • Protection is needed for human and non-human participants

Responsible Reporting

  • Researchers have responsibility to ensure that reports of research are accurate and honest

Nuremburg Code

  • Before WWII, researchers set their own ethical guidelines
  • Brutal Nazi experiments were exposed post-WWII and trials held at Nuremburg
  • Nuremburg Code set 10 ethical guidelines

Tuskegee Study

Public Health Service Study (US Government)

  • Conducted study on the effects of untreated syphilis on black adult males
  • Participants with syphilis were untreated for 40 years, even after treatment became available
  • Participants did not know purpose of study

Stanford prison study

Example Relevant to Ethical Principle of No Harm

  • Haney, Banks, & Zimbardo (1973) – Prison Study, with undergraduates assigned as prisoners or guards (See your online assignment for this week for more explanation!)
  • Prisoners began to display signs of depression & helplessness; guards showed aggressive & dehumanizing behaviors
  • Experiment terminated after just a few days

Milgram Obedience Study

  • Study involved participants delivering “shocks” to unseen individuals for punishment on a learning task
  • Participants were debriefed and informed that they did not harm anyone in the course of the study
  • However, participants experienced shame and embarrassment at their willingness to follow orders and harm others (damaged self-image)

APA Ethics 10 Standards

  • No Harm: Take reasonable steps to avoid harming participants
  • Privacy and confidentiality: Protect confidential information and disclose only with consent
  • Institutional approval: Obtain approval prior to research
  • Competence: Researchers conduct studies within their skill, ability, and knowledge
  • Record keeping: Create, store, and dispose of records with care and confidentiality
  • Informed consent: Inform participants of study and obtain permission
  • Dispensing with informed consent: Only when research not assumed to cause harm (only in certain research settings)
  • Inducements: Offer incentives that are appropriate and not considered coercion
  • Deception: Do not use – except when research question justify deception
  • Debriefing: Researchers provide prompt information about nature/results of research to participants

Principle of no harm

  • Ethics require that the researcher protect participants from physical and psychological harm
  • Risks should be minimized or removed when possible
  • Any risk of harm must be justified

Questions in Harm and Research

  • Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
  • Is psychological distress essential to what is being studied?
  • Can explanation of research goals (upon completion) ameliorate the harm?

Ethics in Clinical Psychology

  • Clinicians have responsibilities to deliver best possible treatment to patients
  • Some important studies could involve groups receiving inferior treatments (ethical dilemma)

Clinical Equipoise

  • Conducting studies that compare equally preferred treatments
  • Studies can compare treatments when uncertainty or disagreement exists about which treatment is preferred

Unanticipated harm

  • Ethics requires that researchers stop a study if there are signs of trouble and/or if the well-being of participants is in jeopardy (for example, the Stanford Prison Study)

Informed consent

  • Requires that the investigator provide all available information about a study so that an individual can make a rational, informed decision to participate (or not!)
  • Key components: information, understanding,


  • Full information is not always easy or possible
  • At times, information must be withheld for the purpose of the research (participants “blind” to prevent reactivity; deception)
  • All information may not yet be known to researchers (outcomes, effects) in experimental research
  • NECESSARY & REQUIRED: inform participants of all known risks


  • Telling a person does not necessarily mean they are informed
  • Certain studies may involve participants not competent enough to understand risks (children, persons with developmental disabilities, persons with psychiatric disorders)
  • Assent vs. Consent: For certain populations, assent needed from participant and consent needed from guardian
  • For all persons, accessible language is key
  • Opportunity to ask questions is crucial

Voluntary participation

  • Participants participate of their own free will
  • Researchers must assess factors of power and authority to prevent coercion
  • Studies must ensure that there are no negative consequences for not participating
  • People in institutions (hospital patients; prisoners) are more vulnerable to coercion or negative consequences of non-participation

Required elements of informed consent forms

  • Overview: Goals, Why, Info on researchers responsible
  • Description of procedures: Experimental conditions, Requirements of participants
  • Risks and inconveniences: Statements of the likelihood of physiological and psychological risks, Inconveniences
  • Benefits: Potential physical, psychological, and monetary benefits
  • Costs and economic considerations: Monetary costs to participants, Potential payments for participation
  • Confidentiality: Assurances and procedures for confidentiality, Caveats for subpoenas
  • Alternative treatments: Alternatives available to client before or during study
  • Voluntary participations: A statement that participant is willing and knows s/he can decline participation at any time without penalty
  • Questions and further info: Statement that participants are encouraged to ask questions, Can contact one or more individuals regarding study
  • Signature lines: A place for the participant and experimenter to sign


When a researcher intentionally withholds information or misleads participants and can be passive or active

  • Passive deception (omission)
    • Withholding information
    • Intentionally not telling participants details about the study
  • Active deception (commission)
    • Presenting misinformation to participants
    • Most commonly involves misleading participants about the purpose of the study

Guidelines for the use of deception


  • To be used, the researcher must demonstrate that deception brings about significant benefits – and the benefits must outweigh the risks
  • All alternatives have been considered and are deemed unacceptable


  • Researchers cannot conceal information about risks of physical pain or severe emotional distress


  • Complete explanation required as soon as possible once participation is complete

Debriefing components

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Debriefing effectiveness

  • Debriefing is helpful, reduces harm, leaves no long-term effects
  • Debriefing is not effective, not believed, increases suspicion

Debriefing effectiveness factors

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  • The information and measurements obtained from an individual during research are kept strictly secret and private.


  • The information and measurements obtained from an individual during research are never directly associated with the individual’s name.

Purpose of confidentiality and anonymity

  • Protects from embarrassment or emotional distress
  • Provides a setting that is conducive to honesty and vulnerability by participants

Confidentiality and anonymity strategies

No Names

  • If names are not needed, data records should not have identifying information
  • Separate lists can be made for payment, which can later be destroyed


  • Codes can be used to track individuals between different parts of a study
  • Researcher keeps the coding list in a secure location and limits access


  • Data can be presented in aggregate format (focusing on the group, not individuals), without identifying information

Institutional review board

  • All institutions that receive government funds and conduct research with humans must have an IRB (e.g., universities, colleges, hospitals, clinics, etc.)
  • An IRB is a committee that examines all proposed research involving human participants
  • Approval by the IRB is needed before any research can be conducted with human participants

Categories of IRB review

Exempt review

  • There is no possible risk to “normal” adult participants
  • Examples: Anonymous mailed surveys on innocuous topics; observation of public behavior (most research conducted in PSYC 332 / PSYC 313 is held to this standard)

Expedited review

  • Minimal risk to “normal” adult participants
  • No written consent needed; verbal consent is fine
  • No psychological intervention or deception

Full review

  • Participants are from special populations
  • Unusual equipment or procedures
  • Deception, intervention, or invasive measures

IRB criteria

  • Minimization of Risk to Participants
  • Reasonable Risk in Relation to Benefits
  • Equitable Selection
  • Informed Consent
  • Documentation of Informed Consent
  • Data Monitoring
  • Privacy and Confidentiality

Reporting of research

  • Data should not be fabricated
  • If errors in published data are found, corrective steps should be taken
  • Error is different than fraud:
  • Fraud is an explicit effort to falsify or misrepresent data (e.g., some of the studies on “reparative therapy” for homosexuality)

Prevention of fraud

  • Replication: repetition of a research study using the same procedures as the original
  • Peer Review: articles for publication are critically assessed by experts in the field

Consequences of fraud

  • Suspension
  • Firing
  • Removal of degree
  • Cancellation of funding for research
  • Forced return of grant money


  • Scientific work and data should be original
  • Plagiarism is the representation of another person’s ideas or words as one’s own:
  • Word-for-word, copying-and-pasting, and/or inspiration without citation
  • Can be intentional or unintentional
  • Can result from sloppiness or from simply being immersed in literature (difficult to separate one’s ideas from the literature)

How to prevent plagiarism

  • Take complete notes, including full citations
  • Identify the source of any ideas not your own
  • Use quotation marks for direct quotes
  • Use caution when paraphrasing
  • Make a complete list of references at end of paper
  • If in doubt, cite the source