Deception in Research Studies: Examples & Uses Video

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  • 0:01 Psychological Studies
  • 0:49 The 'Learning Study'
  • 2:34 The Real Study
  • 3:51 Deception and Review
  • 5:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

Sometimes psychological research studies require the researchers to deceive the subjects in order to get unfiltered and presentable results. In this lesson, we'll be learning about this method of research.

Psychological Studies

Psychological studies can have very obvious methodologies that the researchers are up front about. However, at other times they want to study things in which the subject's knowledge of the study could influence the outcome.

Deception in a research study is the process of intentionally misleading a participant to obscure the real purpose of the study. For example, let's say you want to study how emotions affect decision-making but you don't want your participants to know that you're actually studying their emotions because you want them to be able to react authentically. You as a researcher might deceive your participants into thinking you are studying something entirely different while you're really looking at emotions. Let's look at a real world example, and a famous one at that.

The Learning Study

You are invited to participate in a research study about learning and memory. You arrive at the waiting room and another individual is also there for the study. Soon, the researcher, dressed in a white lab coat, comes out and explains that one of you will be a teacher, who reads word pairs, and the other will be a learner, who will remember word pairs. The researcher randomly selects you to be a teacher.

The researcher leads you both down a hallway and shows you where the learner will be sitting. The learner is placed into a chair and an electrode is glued to his arm. The researcher demonstrates that the learner will be receiving electric shocks are painful but not harmful.

The researcher leads you, the teacher, to another room with a large black box with switches. You are to read word pairs into a microphone and then question the learner's memory. If the learner gets it wrong, you are to shock him and then increase the voltage.

You begin, and the learner gets a few pairs of words right and some wrong and you obey when you are told to shock the learner. The learner starts to complain that the shocks are painful. You begin to sweat and get jittery. You ask the researcher what to do, and he replies 'The experiment requires you to continue.' You are still unsure, and so the researcher says 'We will take full responsibility.'

So you continue, because the researcher must know what he is doing. Soon the learner screams when he is shocked because the voltage is getting high. He begins complaining of a heart condition and says his heart is acting up. The researcher asks you to keep reading. After not much longer, the screams stop and the learner no longer makes any noise into the microphone.

'The experiment requires you to continue.'

Do you think you would continue? Do you think there are those who would?

The Real Study

This experiment, known as the Milgram Experiment, as it was conducted by a psychologist named Stanley Milgram, is one of the most well known experiments in psychology. What really happened was that the learner was working with the researcher. A person in this role is known as the confederate. You were not randomly selected to be the teacher; you were picked to do it. The electrode on the person never actually did anything, and the learner was never hooked up. The large black box made a loud 'BZZZ' noise but was just a prop.

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