Ethics in Psychological Research
Just as there is a tight code of ethics that governs how psychologists practice their profession with clients (see Chapter 1), there is a code that governs how they conduct their research that is mandated by the APA and public law. This applies to research both with humans and laboratory animals. The following is a list of primary ethical considerations in psychological research with humans:
Psychologists must never knowingly conduct research that has the potential for immediate, significant harm or lasting harm of any kind; they can make their participants uncomfortable or upset, but only mildly and only if the research question justifies it.
Research participants always take part entirely voluntarily, without coercion, and they can stop participating at any point without penalty — they don't even have to say why.
A major aspect of voluntary participation is informed consent. Participants must be told in advance what to expect in experiments or other research efforts, and it must be made clear to them that they can stop participating at any time.
Although participants must be told what to expect, they don't necessarily have to be told the true nature of the experiment; they can be deceived in this respect, because people may behave quite differently if they know what an experimenter is really interested in.
When deception is used — as it often is in research with humans — participants must be thoroughly debriefed afterward, which means that they are told the true nature of the experiment and are allowed to ask questions and express any concerns they have.
As in psychological practice, all information about a particular participant's behavior is strictly confidential and every effort must be made to keep it that way.
Institutional review boards (IRBs), comprised of professionals, eval-uate all proposed research to determine if there are potential ethical problems with any of the research practices. IRBs may suggest changes and they can withhold approval for the research to be conducted.
In accord with these ethical principles, by far most psychological research with human participants is benign. It is possible, however, for psychologists to conduct approved research with the best of intentions and inadvertently have things turn out differently than they had planned.
Should you find yourself in a psychological experiment, say, in response to an ad in your local media, remember the part about quitting at any point without penalty. Participants are usually paid, and in keeping with the ethical principles, you must be paid in full if you begin an experiment — whether or not you complete it. Withholding payment would be coercion.
In research with animals, the principles regarding the potential for harm are of course not as strict. Important research — particularly that of an experimental nature and that risks significant harm — can be conducted only with nonhumans. Nowadays, however, the question is always whether it is truly warranted. The main consideration in using laboratory animals for research is that they must be treated humanely, which includes caring for them responsibly and attending to their health and needs.