Experiments and studies conducted using humans or animals have the potential to cause concerns about the welfare of the participants – these are called ethical issues. There are certain problems that may arise when the nature of the study is put into context – such as psychological discomfort, harm, stress, the procedure’s nature, the need to lie to hide the aim of the study. Ethical issues may also arise from the implications of their research, for example the possibility of results having a negative impact on the society.
To regulate these concerns, organizations and council bodies exist which produce a code of conduct, with rules such as approval charters from the governing bodies (such as universities) and guidelines that help experimenters work in way that do not violate the ethics code as it instructs limitations and concerns of the welfare of the individuals involved in the study.
This is important because if participants take away a negative perception and experience from their participation it will negatively impact the whole psychological community which in turn will lose credibility.
Ethical Guidelines Related To Human Particpants:
In order to reduce or negate the variable of demand characteristics, social desirability and validity of the study it is important to hide the aim of the study. It is however important for them to know what is in the study so they can provide their informed consent.
Ideally, informed consent should be obtained from participants before the study commences, not by revealing the aim of the study but by providing them by enough sufficient information so that they may decide whether or not to participate in the study. However, in the cases of naturalistic observations and field experiments it is not possible for informed consent to be taken. This is where ‘presumptive consent’ comes in. This means the researchers might ask a group similar to the target population (sharing similar traits) whether they would find the study acceptable or not so a relevant result is acquired, thinking that the target population may also would have agreed.
A study may have the potential to cause psychological discomfort, stress and harm to the participants involved (for eg. Milgram et al.). In situations like those it is imperative that participants should be protected, should not be put at higher risks and steps should thus be taken to eliminate the risk all together. It is also a preventive measure that the study being conducted should be stopped if unexpected risks arise.
Right To Withdraw:
Participants are also given the right to withdraw and it must be made clear to participants at the start of the study. Although participants can be offered incentives to join a research, these cannot be retracted away if they wish to leave for valid reason. Researchers cannot abuse their position of authority, forcing a participant to stay if they don’t want to. Participants and Researchers should both be aware of this.
If possible, they (participants) should not be deliberately misinformed. When it is absolutely essential to do so – they should be apologized and debriefed instantly. They should also be allowed to remove their results if they wish to.
All the data that is collected and stored should comprise separately from the participants’ personal information – age, name, gender, ethnicity, occupation. This information must not be shared with any other 3rd party – this would be a breach of confidentiality. Ideally, to ensure confidentiality the personal details of the participant should be destroyed so that any breach is impossible. If by any chance, there is a need to initiate contact with the participant again or to pair up an individual’s score in each condition in say, a repeated measures design – a serial number can be allotted the participant(s) to identify them.
Research methods such as self-reports and observations which ask personal questions in a study risks invading privacy. This means invading personal space or an emotional territory that the individuals do not want to share. They can make this clear, setting boundaries with the researcher. In the case of a questionnaire, participants should be allotted personal space. In observations, people should only be observed/watched where the participants would usually expect to be observed. Their information can be published only when the participant themselves grants them permission to via informed consent or hyper-exceptional circumstances where the safety and lives of the participant or others are at stake.
Debriefing – it done by thanking participants who have been in a study, apologized to when deceived and they are provided the chance to ask questions. They are also informed of the full aim of the study and ensures that they do not want to withdraw their data. It is however, important to understand how debriefing does not serve as a clause to designing an unethical procedure or experiment, thus it is important for the researchers to consider minimizing ‘collateral damage’ and distress to the participants, in any case.
Ethical Guidelines Related To The Use Of Animals
Animals are frequently used in psychological research for a number of different reasons as suggested by psychologists – they are convenient models, a way to execute procedures that could not be possible (because of ethical considerations) and because of redundancy. This is why research is conducted on animals but their welfare needs safeguarding.
Animals are also often protected by law but these guidelines specifically consider the effects of research in which animals may be caged/confined, harmed, in pain or stressed – this suffering should be minimized. Veterinary help/advice should be sought in case where needed.
Researchers should consider replacing actual animal experiments with alternatives such as videos from previously conducted studies or computer simulations.
• Species And Strain:
The chosen species and strain should be the one that is least likely to go through distress or pain. Other relevant and important factors such as if the animals were bred in captivity, if the animals were participants in a study prior to the current one and the sentence period of the studies.
• Number Of Animals:
Only the minimum number of animals needed to produce reliable and valid findings should be utilized. To minimize the number, pilot studies, reliable measures of the DV, good experimental design and research method along with solid data analysis.
• Procedures: Distress And Pain
Research that may potentially cause disease, injury, physiological and psychological distress, discomfort and death should be avoided at all costs. The experimental design should work on reducing any possible pain of the animals, rather than worsen the situation.
Alternatively, naturally occurring instances may be used – such as during research, attention has to be paid to the animals’ daily care and veterinary needs and any costs inflicted upon the animals should be justified by an objective, scientific explanation that benefits the work.
Isolation and overcrowding can cause animals to become distressed as some of them have solitary, territorial tendencies and habits. The caging condition should be considered according to the social behaviour patterns of the animals. Overcrowding can cause aggression and consequently, distress. Their food and water should be sufficient regarding their dietary habits. However, the artificial environment only needs to recreate the aspects of the natural environment that are important to welfare and survival. Eg. Warmth, space for exercise or somewhere to hide. Cage cleaning should top priority.
• Reward And Deprivation – As Aversive Stimuli:
When initiating studies that concern the dietary habits of animals, it should be designed to satisfy the needs. The usage of preferred food should be considered as an alternative to deprivation and alternatives to aversive stimuli (Aversive stimuli by definition is an intentionally simulated unpleasant event/occurrence that intends to decrease the plausible probability of a behaviour, when it is presented as a consequence for example – a punishment.) Depravation should be used where possible.
• Anaesthesia, Analgesia And Euthanasia:
Anaesthesia: It is a process of temporary loss of sensation, awareness and consciousness that is induced through IV (Intravenous circulation). This is usually to induce a paralysis (for muscle relaxation).
Analgesia: Medication used to relieve pain, inflammation and etc.
Euthanasia: It is also known as mercy killing. It is the process of intentionally killing, relieving the subject from the pain and suffering, withholding artificial-life support and treatments.