Psychology experiments Essay
When conducting psychology research, there are several important standards that must be observed in order to protect study participants. Ethics are a set of moral principles used to guide human behaviour. When these guidelines are breached, they become ethical issues. Nowadays the British Psychology Society (BPS) uses a set of ethical guidelines for all psychology experiments to be bound to. Most ethical problems in human research stem from the participant being typically in as much less powerful position then the experimenter. It follows that steps need to be taken to ensure that the participant is not placed in a powerless and vulnerable position.
All participants must have the basic right in experiments to stop their involvement at any given point. Furthermore, they do not have to feel obliged to explain the basis on which they have decided to withdraw if they choose not to, and they may also insist the data they provided during the experiment should be destroyed. Informed consent is also another safeguard taken by psychologists to indicate a formal agreement between the experimenter and study participant. However the experimental design, eg. field experiment, may not always enable this as it could potentially seriously affect the validity of the results. Yet a precaution used is to debrief participants on the true aim of the study after if has been conducted, in order to justify deception and then to obtain informed consent off the participants once valid results have been produced.
A cost-benefit analysis helps weigh up the cost experienced by the participants as a consequence of their involvement in the study, to the social benefit of the results on society. This helps justify many experiments as the outcome of some studies could be of huge beneficial value to society and the cost of participants seems insignificant to the influence it has made outside the study. Despite many ethical guidelines, previous psychological experiments have breeched these, therefore leading to significant ethical issues. In order to compensate for these downfalls, the experimenters can justify them or use techniques after the experiment is over to restore their ethical values.
Milgram’s (1974) research on obedience to authority was carried out in the days before most ethical guidelines were in place, however is still regarded unethical. The experiment involved asking participants to administer very strong electric shocks to another participant (although was in fact an experimenter who was involved in the study). The participants were deceived about key aspects of the study, such as the fact that the other person didn’t actually receive any of the shocks the true participant was administering. However you must consider the affect having the participants know about the false shocks would have on the study.
The results would be totally invalid as they would not then be measuring the obedience to the participants. They were also deceived in that they believed they were participating in a memory learning experiment, yet really were involved in obedience to authority experiment. This was again necessary to obtain valid results. However this point also raises issues on informed consent, as p’s only gave consent to the fake experiment, not the true one. This was justified by the experimenters by giving all participants a full debrief of the true nature of the experiment after it had been conducted. During this debriefing the p’s were asked for informed consent to the true experiment instead, therefore making up for the lack of informed consent to start.
One of the main ethical concerns which arose form this study was the high level of psychological harm caused to the p’s as a direct result of the experiment. Visible signs of distress, nervous behaviour, sweating, uncomfortable laughter, trembling and even seizers were recorded form the participants during the study. This strongly suggests to us that the participants were very effected by their participation in the experiment.
Additionally after the experiment they may have been left feeling ashamed, lower self esteem and degrading thoughts of themselves for have acted like they did. However again the debrief at the end reassured that they had not actually harmed anyone and that the electric shocks were false. They were also told that their behaviour was normal and that many others had acted in similar ways.
All p’s later received a detailed report on the study to illustrate the significance of their involvement in the study. Over 80% of the p’s said they were glad to have taken part and only 1% expressed negative feelings. Overall despite the cost to the participants, the results produced from this experiment have been invaluable in extending knowledge on obedience. Still years after this experiment was conducted, the study holds massive insight into obedience and remains one of the most influential psychology studies in this area. Thus justified by the cost- benefit analysis.
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