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Researchers carefully treat subjects who participate in their studies. Federal law regulates several aspects of psychological research, including the establishment of an institutional review board (IRB) and institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC).
An IRB evaluates proposed studies using human participants and determines whether they place subjects at risk. When a subject is more likely to be harmed by participating in a study than by not participating, an IRB performs a risk/benefit analysis to determine whether the study is justifiable. Federal statutes strongly influenced the American Psychological Associations (1992) Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. APA standards for informed consent, full disclosure, deception, debriefing, anonymity, and confidentiality protect participants rights. Participants must be debriefed whenever an experiment involves deception.
An IACUC evaluates proposed studies to ensure that researchers have carefully researched alternatives to animal research and have decided to use a minimum number of animals. The amended Animal Welfare Act of 1966 and professional organizations, such as the AALAS and AAALAC, have contributed to uniform animal care standards and self-policing by the scientific community. Researchers must promote animal welfare whenever they use animal subjects. Despite allegations by critics of animal research, there is little evidence of animal abuse in psychological research. While some critics advocate animal rights, the position that all species are equally valued and have equal rights, most people support animal experimentation because of its contribution to human welfare.
Scientific fraud encompasses fabrication and falsification of data, and plagiarism, is unethical, and can result in severe personal and institutional consequences. There are diverse reasons for scientific fraud. Peer review, replication, and academic competition help control fraud. Plagiarism, representing someone elses work as your own, is a type of fraud. Researchers must credit others who contributed words or ideas to their work through citations. In ethical reports, those listed as report authors must have made important contributions to the research. Researchers may only republish previously published data if they cite the original publication where the data first appeared.
The Evolution of Ethics in Research
The American Psychological Association Guidelines
Deception and Full Disclosure
Anonymity and Confidentiality
Protecting the Welfare of Animal Subjects
The Animal Rights Movement
Fraud in Science
Review and Study Questions
Critical Thinking Exercise
Cengage Online Workshop Exercises
This Research Methods workshop deals specifically with ethical issues. After working through it, students should be able to answer the following:
List four ethical issues that are relevant to psychological research.
Give an example of a psychological risk one might encounter in an experiment.
What is an IRB?
What special considerations are there when an experiment involves deception?
How is anonymity in a study different from confidentiality?
This workshop discusses debriefing practices. After studying it, your students should be able to answer these questions:
Why is debriefing important?
What special debriefing issues are necessary when deception is involved?
Describe the elements of an effective and appropriate debriefing?
Additional Web Resources
This is the full code of conduct of the American Psychological Association. Section 8 is of greatest relevance to researchers.
The National Institutes of Health Office of Extramural Research offers an online training program on Protecting Human Research Participants that does an excellent job explaining the need for and history of ethics in human research. The program is free, doesnt take more than an hour or two, and students get a certificate upon completion.
This site bills itself as the worlds leading online plagiarism prevention resource. It is related to Turnitin.com, a site which scans submitted papers for plagiarism.
The National Archives and Records Administration lists on its website the Code of Federal Regulations. Going to this site and searching for protection of human subjects will lead you to the most up-to-date federal guidelines.
Listed above are IRB pages for Oakland University and Truman State University, the institutions at which your texts author and the authors of this manual teach. Your own institution likely has a webpage for IRB information that you can refer students to.
Here is the website for the well-known animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Table 2-1 in Chapter 2 lists several accusations made by animal rights activists that have been shown to be inaccurate. The following exercise complements the points made in this table and improves your students library skills as well. It will help your students if you identify in advance all of your librarys journals that deal with animal research.
Have each student identify a published article in which animals served as subjects. Ask them to list all of the ways in which the study observed the ethical guidelines for treatment of animals. To really make your point, challenge them to find a single instance of unethical behavior. This may lead to an interesting (and impassioned) discussion of what is/is not part of the greater good.
Fraud in Science
Ask your students to conduct a web search for scientific fraud and bring an example in to class the next day. My Google search netted over a million hits, so you may wish to limit them to stories that have some psychological relevance. Ask students to identify the motivations behind those found to be guilty of scientific fraud.
Handout 2-1: Risk/Benefit Analyses
A risk/benefit analysis is fairly easy to understand in theory, but fairly difficult to conduct in practice. Conduct a risk/benefit analysis on each of the following experiment proposals. Assume you are responsible for deciding whether or not to approve each experiment. You must justify each decision. Suggest ways to improve each proposal.
1) Mickey wants to study how food deprivation affects learning in mice. He believes that animals have a survival instinct to learn more quickly when food is scarce. He proposes an experiment in which mice are given only water for 1, 2, 5, or 10 days. He then plans to measure the speed with which they learn to navigate a complicated maze.
2) Barbara believes that people will shift from using paper towels to using electric air dryers in public restrooms if they are told about the amount of paper waste in landfills. She proposes a study in which a sign is posted in some bathrooms explaining the pollution problem, but is not posted in other bathrooms. She will use hidden videocameras to record peoples use of either the paper towel dispenser or electric air dryer in each of the two bathroom conditions.
3) Lucy believes that our self-image affects how we rate the appearance of others. She proposes an experiment in which participants rate the attractiveness of various models. Unbeknownst to the participants, a confederate will be loitering in the hallway outside the experiment room. As volunteers arrive for the experiment, the confederate will either compliment (you look nice in that outfit) or insult (that outfit makes you look fat) the participant. Lucy will then compare the model ratings from complimented and insulted participants.
Handout 2-2: Identifying Ethics Violations
Identify as many ethical violations as you can in the following scenario. Explain each of the violations you find.
Mark decided that participants in this study will not be at risk, and therefore, he didnt bother the IRB with his proposal. His study investigates the amount of discomfort people are willing to put up with in order to earn a large sum of money. He recruits students by posting ads about a contest in which you can earn $1000. Everyone who shows up is told that they must do whatever he tells them to do for the next several hours and that the last person to comply will earn the money. He then makes the participants eat disgusting food combinations, rub permanent markers on their own faces, and mail insulting messages to their professors. After two hours he stops the contest, informs everyone that it was actually an experiment, and explains that there is no prize money. Before participants leave, he gets them to sign an informed consent form to acknowledge that they were free to leave at any time.
An IRB evaluates proposed human research studies before they are conducted.
The main responsibility of an IRB is to protect subject safety. An IRBs first task is
to determine whether a proposed study places subjects at risk. If an IRB decides
that participation in a study will increase the risk of subject injury, it must conduct a
risk/benefit analysis to determine whether risks to individuals are outweighed by
potential benefits or knowledge gained. An IRB also safeguards the rights of
subjects in at risk studies by ensuring that researchers obtain informed consent.
Informed consent means that a subject agrees to participate following a complete
explanation of the nature and purpose of a study. It is required for all human
research studies. Consent forms must be written in lay language at a reading level
subjects can understand. Researchers should verbally explain information that is
important for subjects. Subjects who agree to participate in a study should sign the
consent form and then receive a copy for their records.
The following aspects of informed consent are important in psychological research:
How is it related to respect for persons in the Belmont Report?
Informed consent derives from the principle of respect for persons contained in the
1979 Department of Health, Education, and Welfare Belmont Report. Respect for
persons means that individuals should be free to make their own decisions about
research participation and that we must provide extra protection for vulnerable
populations and persons with diminished capacity while respecting their
3. When is it appropriate to use deception?
Deception is appropriate when it is an experimenters only means of testing an
When is it not appropriate?
APA Standard 6.15 (b) prohibits deception that would influence a subjects
decision to participate in the study.
How can the negative effects of deception be eliminated?
We can eliminate the negative effects of deception by thorough debriefing as
required by APA Standard 6.15 (c): Any other deception that is an integral feature
of the design and conduct of an experiment must be explained to participants as
early as is feasible, preferably at the conclusion of their participation, but no later
than at the conclusion of the research.
4. At the end of the semester, all students in a general psychology course are told
they will not receive credit for the course unless they take part in the instructors
research project. Students who refuse to participate are given Incompletes and
do not get credit for the course. How has the ethical principle of informed consent
The instructors requirement is unethical because it constitutes coercion and
thereby violates three sections of APA Standard 6.11. The requirement violates
APA standard 6.11 (b) which requires that psychologists inform participants
that they are free to participate or to decline to participate. It violates APA
Standard 6.11 (c): When psychologists conduct research with individuals such
as students or subordinates, psychologists take special care to protect the
prospective participants from adverse consequences of declining or withdrawing
from participation. Finally, it violates APA Standard 6.11 (d): When research
participation is a course requirement or opportunity for extra credit, the
prospective participant is given the choice of equitable alternative activities.
The experimenter violated APA Standard 6.11 (c): they inform participants of
significant factors that may be expected to influence their willingness to participate
(such as risks, discomfort, adverse effects, or limitations in confidentiality, except
as provided in Standard 6.15, Deception in Research). The experimenter violated APA Standard 6.15 (c): Any other deception that is an integral feature of
the design and conduct of an experiment must be explained to participants as early
as is feasible, preferably at the conclusion of their participation, but no later than at
the conclusion of the research.
Finally, the experimenter violated APA Standard 6.15 (b): Psychologists never
deceive research participants about significant aspects that would affect their
willingness to participate, such as physical risks, discomfort, or unpleasant
What should the experimenter have done?
The experimenter should have warned subjects about the difficulty and potential stress of the maze problems, and should have immediately debriefed them after they completed the study.
The student experimenter failed to maintain anonymity (subject names were on
data sheets) and confidentiality (the security of the data was violated).
How could this situation have been avoided?
The experimenter should have coded data sheets so that Pats answers remained
anonymous. Furthermore, the experimenter should not have shared experimental
data with a friend.
7, What ethical principles apply when we propose and conduct research with
APA Standard 6.20 outlines the requirements for ethical animal research.
Researchers must protect animal welfare whenever they use animal subjects.
These guidelines concern:
Animal welfare is the humane care and treatment of animals, which is regulated by
federal and state statutes and the ethical standards of professional organizations.
Animal rights is the idea that all sensate species, especially those that feel pain,
are of equal value to humans and should have the same subject rights as humans.
9. To study the effect of a new drug to reduce depression, researchers must sacrifice
animal subjects and dissect their brains. Discuss the ethical pros and cons of this
line of research.
APA Standard 6.20 defines the ethical standards for animal research. An
institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC) must first determine that
there are no satisfactory alternatives to animal experimentation and that the
number of animals used in the study has been minimized. An IACUC would
approve the study if it promises to contribute to mental health and follows APA
guidelines for the humane termination of an animals life.
This question implies the broader philosophical question of whether animals should
be sacrificed for the sake of human welfare. Students are likely to endorse
divergent positions as they grapple with the issue of animal rights. In this context,
the pros are that animal research is indispensable in psychopharmacological
research, can help save human lives, and can improve depressed patients quality
of life. The con is that the lives of members of a sensate species will be sacrificed.
10. What is fraud?
Fraud includes falsifying or fabricating data, and plagiarism.
Describe the external pressures that can produce fraud.
Competition in academic psychology may be a primary cause of fraud.
Researchers frequently compete for tenure, promotion, departmental resources,
and grant funds based on their publication records. The pressure is most intense in
publish or perish institutions and for individuals who have experienced a series of
Describe the safeguards that keep it in check.
Peer review is the first safeguard since reviewers closely scrutinize submitted
manuscripts and are likely to detect suspect findings. Replication is the second
safeguard, since fraudulent findings are not likely to be replicated. Finally,
academic competition for scarce resources like grants increases vigilance against
fraud by colleagues in a specialty area.
What are the possible penalties for scientific misconduct?
The penalties for scientific misconduct depend on the offense and who determines
guilt and punishment. Penalties imposed by a university could range from a
reprimand to firing, while criminal court penalties could be as severe as
imprisonment. An institutions reputation could be harmed by a researchers
misconduct and it could be forced to return funds or prevented from receiving
future grant funds.
11. Lee had put off doing a lab report until the end of the term. He was badly pressed
for time. His roommate said, No problem. I took that course last year. You can use
my report. Just put your name on it. Lee decides it is all right to use the paper
since he has the authors consent. Is this ethical according to the APA? Why or
No. Lee committed plagiarism since he misrepresented his roommates work as
his own. His roommates encouragement only made him complicit in Lees
* a. amoral.
From a scientific perspective, facts discovered through science are
* d. neither moral nor immoral.
* c. articulate scientists sense of right and wrong.
Which of these must be established by institutions engaging in research with
a. human research review committee
* c. institutional review board
Samantha has developed an original research proposal. Since her
psychology experiment involves human subjects, she will have to submit it to
* c. institutional review board.
A researcher could be sued for damages if an experiment injured a subject
and the injury was
* d. accidental, intentional, or psychological.
Federal law requires that an institutional review board be comprised of
* d. both laypeople and researchers.
The primary concern of an institutional review board is to
* c. ensure that the safety of research participants is adequately protected.
Which human experiment could not be justified, regardless of the knowledge
that might be gained?
* b. studying the effectiveness of a drug that produces complete muscular
paralysis in treating alcohol addiction
The first task of a board reviewing human subject research is to decide
* d. physical, psychological, or social
Which statement about at risk studies is correct?
a. panels should always approve these studies as long as researchers obtain
* d. panels should only approve these studies if potential benefits outweigh
risks to subjects
When a panel determines whether the potential benefits of a study outweigh
risks to subjects, they are performing a
* a. risk/benefit analysis.
IRBs perform a risk/benefit analysis for ____ studies.
* b. at risk studies
Select the study that would be most likely to place subjects at risk.
* c. a study of whether exposure to violent pornography increases male
acceptance of the rape myth
17. (F) Research Ethics
Whom do commercial IRBs mainly serve?
b. non-profit organizations
* c. pharmaceutical companies
d. public school systems
Informed consent must be obtained
a. if an institutional review board recommends it.
* b. in all at risk psychological studies using human subjects .
Informed consent means that
* b. subjects agree to participate in a study after receiving complete
information about the nature and purpose of the study.
* c. 50%
* d. withheld penicillin treatment from poor, rural black men, but not from
their wealthy, urban white counterparts.
* d. all of these
* d. all of these
Who paralyzed subjects using Scoline in a classical conditioning study
that predated modern ethical guidelines for research?
Why would an IRB reject the Campbell, Sanderson, and Laverty (1964) study
if it were proposed today?
* c. subjects were paralyzed and believed they were dying
All of these are aspects of informed consent except
* a. if the subject is a minor or impaired, consent must be obtained from a
All of these are aspects of informed consent except
After an experimenter explained Alexs rights as a subject and the potential
risks and benefits of participating in the research study, Alex signed a form
containing this information. These steps are essential elements of
* d. informed consent.
Which of these statements describes informed consent?
* d. all of these
Experimenters should obtain informed consent
* c. in writing.
Which conclusion should be drawn from Manns (1994) study of informed
* d. researchers need to verbally reinforce information contained in an
informed consent form
The ____ publishes the code of ethical principles that apply to
psychologists and students who conduct research.
* c. American Psychological Association
When a researcher has questions about research ethics, she should
a. design another experiment.
* b. seek advice from an IRB or colleagues and employ all possible
safeguards to protect research subjects.
Final responsibility for conducting ethical research rests with the
* d. principal researcher.
In some studies, subjects may be considered to be at minimal risk. This
* b. participation does not alter the participants odds of being harmed.
All of these could be minimal-risk studies except
* a. a study of how amphetamine affects long-term memory.
According to Sieber and colleagues, in 1992 some form of deception was
used in ___ of studies published in the Journal of Personality & Social
* c. 47%
In a study of obedience by ____, subjects were deceived about whether
they were administering dangerous shocks to learners.
* d. Milgram
In a study of negative ions and aggression by _____, a student accomplice
of the experimenter provoked half of the subjects with scripted nasty
* a. Baron, Russell, and Arms
In psychological research, a confederate
Dawn is studying attitudes about using morning after contraceptives. She is
afraid that if she reveals her experimental hypothesis, she will distort subject
responses. If she withholds information about this study, she must be sure
* d. the information withheld will not affect the subjects decision to participate.
According to Christensens (1988) review of subject attitudes towards
deception, most subjects
* b. consider deception studies more beneficial than nondeception studies.
All of these statements describe Christensens (1988) findings on subject
attitudes towards deception except
* c. most subjects believe that deception studies can be personally harmful.
The guideline concerning ____ may be violated whenever deception is used
in a psychological experiment.
* c. informed consent
Deliberate deception may be acceptable in a psychology experiment if
a. researchers obtain informed consent.
* d. the experimental hypothesis cannot be tested without misleading research
If researchers intentionally mislead subjects in an experiment, ethical
guidelines require that deception be limited to the studys
The term, ____, refers to a researchers responsibility to explain the
nature and purpose of a study to subjects at the end of an experiment.
* b. debriefing
Full disclosure, by completely debriefing subjects at the end of an experiment,
is required whenever psychology experiments
* b. employ deception.
After Rebecca participated in a psychology experiment, the researcher
explained the studys nature and purpose to her. This procedure is called
* b. debriefing.
(C) The American Psychological Association Guidelines
The most serious ethical problem in debriefing subjects in a psychology
study is whether
* b. debriefing will reverse all of an experiments negative effects.
Male subjects received false heart rate feedback about their sexual arousal in
the study by
The most critical ethical problem in the Bramel (1963) study on projection was
* a. full disclosure may not have reversed the effects of false feedback.
What was the deception in the Bramel (1963) study?
* d. subjects believed that they received heart rate feedback about their
sexual arousal to pictures of nude males
Puck returned from an experiment looking slightly betrayed. He cornered his
roommate and said, You know that study with hot pictures you told me to
sign up for? Those photos werent from the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.
In which study might Marty have participated?
Which pair of studies raised the concern that simple debriefing may not
reverse the negative effects of an experiment?
* b. Bramel; Donnerstein, Linz, and Penrod
The ____ study showed that when male undergraduates are exposed
to high levels of violent pornography in a psychology experiment, they
become more accepting of the rape myth than nonexposed men.
* c. Donnerstein, Linz, and Penrod
A critical finding of the Donnerstein, Linz, and Penrod (1987) study of the
effects of violent pornography on male undergraduates was that
* c. extensive debriefing was required to counter the harmful beliefs created
by the films.
Katie was shocked by the sudden transformation of her boyfriend Jay. After
participating in a single experiment involving violent pornography, roommates
overheard him making outrageous statements like, Women really want to be
raped, and Id rape a woman in a second if I knew that I would never be
caught. In which study might Jay have participated?
* c. Donnerstein, Linz, and Penrod
Researchers identify subjects by code numbers and report group data to
* a. anonymity.
Dr. Breault reprimanded students in her Psychological Research class after
she discovered data sheets containing subject names and personality test
scores. Her students failed to protect
* a. anonymity.
Researchers securely store experimental data and only use this information
for purposes explained to the subjects to ensure
* b. confidentiality.
Which steps should an experimenter take to protect confidentiality?
* d. all of these
Which of the following is required by institutions engaged in animal research?
* c. institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC)
The ____ regulates the care and treatment of animals in research.
* a. Animal Welfare Act
An institutional animal care and use committee must decide that ____
before it approves animal experimentation.
* d. there are no alternatives to animal experimentation
Which professional organizations monitor and inform the scientific
community about the humane use and care of animals for research?
* a. AALAS and AAALAC
The 1991 revision of the Animal Welfare Act
* c. requires that primates be housed with other members of their species.
Which of the following raised ethical concerns about Bradys (1958) research
with rhesus monkeys?
* d. some animals were kept in restraining chairs for as long as 6 months
Which study exposed rhesus monkeys to alternating 6-hour periods of shock
avoidance and rest?
* a. Brady
APA ethical guidelines require that the termination of an animals life should
* a. completed rapidly and with minimal pain.
Coile and Millers (1984) review of articles reporting animal research in major
psychology journals between 1979 and 1983 found that
* d. the allegations of extreme critics were not supported.
All of these are examples of fraud except
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