Ethical guidelines are pieces of advice which guide psychologists to consider the welfare of participants and wider society. If I were a volunteer in a psychological experiment, I would expect the researchers to have great interest in my well being during and after the experiment. High code of conduct would be anticipated, providing comfort and security to me. I believe that by volunteering in a psychology experiment, I should be treated with utmost respect since I am contributing to the development of psychological studies.
The first ethical guideline I would expect to be followed is acquiring Informed Consent. While sometimes it is necessary to hide the true aims of the experiment from participants to reduce demand characteristics which is where the participants become aware of the aims of the experiment and as a result, alter their natural behaviour to for example provide socially acceptable results, each participant has a right to know that they are taking part in an experiment so that they can decide whether they are comfortable participating or not. For example in the study conducted by Piliavin et al named “Subway Samaritans”, participants did not give their informed consent to take part in this field experiment. Similarly, In the study into False Memory by Laney et. al, participants were unable to give their full informed consent as they were deceived and told that they were going to be taking part in a study of ‘food preferences and personality’ in order to limit demand characteristics.
However, it is understood that in some cases, for example Naturalistic Observations, it is not possible to get informed consent. In scenarios like these, I expect that Presumptive consent is gathered instead. This is where researchers ask a group of people similar to the intended sample of the experiment whether they would find the study acceptable if they were involved. This allows researchers to presume that the actual participants of the experiment would have agreed to participate if they had asked, making it more ethically sound.
Secondly, I would expect to be granted the Right to Withdraw from the experiment whenever I wish to. I believe that each and every participant of an experiment, whether it be volunteers, paid participants etc. should be entitled to leave whenever they please. Therefore, prior to the experiment, I would like to be reminded and assured of this right to leave the experiment and omit my data at any time. In this way, I would not feel pressured to continue participating in the study. In the experiment conducted by Milgram on Obedience to Authority, participants were arguably denied the right to withdraw. This was due to the verbal prods made by experimenter including ‘Please go on/ Please Continue/ The experiment requires that you continue/ It is absolutely essential that you continue/ You have no other choice, you must go on’ which made the participants feel as though they HAD to complete the experiment.
If I volunteer in an experiment, I expect to be protected both Physically and Psychologically. Many psychological experiments have the potential to cause physical harm e.g by the use of injections and psychological harm e.g distress. In the study conducted by Milgram concerning Obedience to Authority, participants were not protected from psychological harm. Many of them went through extreme distress when ordered to administer dangerous shocks to the learner. Signs of distress included sweating, shaking, groaning and nervous laughter. One participant could not finish the procedure because he went into a violent seizure! Despite the fact that the participants were debriefed after and told that the shocks administered were fake, there was still great potential for lasting negative consequences. Similarly, the experiment conducted into Aggression by Bandura et al raised ethical issues since it introduced aggression to the children of the experiment. These children might have been harmed by becoming more aggressive. Furthermore, the children might have been mildly annoyed, which could have been psychologically distressing. Another example is the Stanford Prison experiment by Zimbardo et al which investigated whether brutality reported among guards in American prisons was due to the sadistic personalities of the guards or had more to do with the prison environment.Participants who played the role of prisoners in this study were not protected from psychological harm, as they experienced significant amounts of humiliation and distress. One example of this is when one participant in this experiment had to be released after 36 hours due to uncontrollable screaming, crying and anger. It is therefore very important that participants are not exposed to risks greater than those in normal, day to day life.
In addition to this, I expect that the ethical issue of Deception should be avoided as far as possible. Many psychological experiments hide the true aims of the experiment from the participants of the study to prevent Demand Characteristics, as mentioned before, and social desirability bias which is a type of response bias where survey respondents tend to answer questions in a manner that will be viewed favourably by the researchers or the wider public. I believe that in cases where its absolutely necessary to deceive participants to produce ecologically valid data, they should be Debriefed fully at the end of the experiment in order to limit the psychological distress or harm caused as far as possible. Debriefing provides participants with an explanation at the end of the study which explains fully the aims of the study in order to ensure that they do not want to withdraw their data. In the study “Subway Samaritans” by Piliavin et al, participants were significantly deceived as they believed the victims had genuinely collapsed and needed help! As a result, they might have suffered Psychological distress as a result of feelings of concern or even guilt from not helping the victims on the train. Because this experiment was done on a train, participants left immediately as the train stopped. Consequently, they were unable to be debriefed. This poses serious ethical issues as they were never told that the victims who collapsed were never really hurt.
Penultimately, one of the most important ethical guideline I expect to be followed is Confidentiality. The identity of participants should be protected at all costs. It is expected that all data is separately store from the participants’ names and personal information. Additionally, names should not be disclosed unless when permission is granted by participants. The data collected by researchers should be kept securely and should not be shared with anyone outside the experiment.
Last but not least, Privacy. Certain experiments, for example, those that involve self reports like interviews or questionnaires, risk invading the privacy of its participants. This means that researchers enter physical space or emotional territory which the individual would prefer to keep personal. In situations similar to these, experimenters should make it clear to participants their right to ignore questions which they feel may invade into their personal spaces. Similarly, covert observations risk invasion of privacy since participants are not aware that they are being observed. In cases like these, people should only be observed in situations where they would expect to be on public display.
In conclusion, it is clearly important for these ethical guidelines to be followed in psychological experiments as they ensure comfort and security of participants. By following these guidelines as best as possible, not only is the welfare of participants protected, but the identity of the Psychological Society is preserved. Experiments like Milgram’s study into Obedience to Authority were expected to discourage its participants and also, potential participants from volunteering in experiments in the future. That’s because participants were deceived, forced and distressed significantly! However, an ethically sound experiment will do the opposite and encourage participants to take part in future experiments. When individuals are satisfied with their participation in experiments, they will be more likely to partake again. In this way, our knowledge in Psychology will continue to grow abundantly!