Ethics in Psychological Research

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  • 0:03 Definition of Ethics
  • 0:41 Ethical Concerns in Psychology
  • 2:26 Maintaining Ethics
  • 4:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

Ethics are an important aspect of psychological research. Learn about how ethics apply to psychological research are are how ethical standards are regulated.

Definition of Ethics

Do you remember being told as a child that you should treat others how you'd want others to do to you? Since you wanted someone to play with you at recess when you were new at your school, you should ask the new child at school if they wanted to play with you. You wouldn't want someone to take your candy, so you shouldn't take candy away from someone else. This concept is commonly referred to as the Golden Rule.

This Golden Rule was one of your first experiences with ethics. Ethics refers to a set of moral standards that regulate right and wrong actions. When we were children it was simple, but as life gets more complicated, we are forced to define these standards in more specific terms.

Ethical Concerns in Psychology

In the field of psychology, there are a number of ethical concerns, especially in conducting research on human subjects. Before we describe some of these issues, let's look at the following questions and think about how you might answer each one:

  • What information can I share with others?
  • Is it necessary to withhold information from the participants?
  • What are my responsibilities as a researcher?
  • How should I handle the data I obtain in my research?

How these questions are answered is important in psychological research. The welfare of research participants must be protected. There are a number of ways that researchers can accomplish this.

Let's imagine you were a participant in a research study on depression. If your name were released along with the results of the study, it might make you feel uncomfortable because you may not want people knowing your private information. For this reason, researchers use two methods to insure participants are protected. The first method is confidentiality. This means the participant's identity is known only to the researcher and is protected from public exposure. Another way researchers can protect the identity of participants is by anonymity. This means that the researcher is also unaware of the identity of the participants of the study.

Now you know your name will be kept private in the research study, but what will be expected of you in the study? The researchers must obtain your informed consent. This means that your consent to participate in a research study can only be obtained if the researcher discloses details about how the study will be conducted. These details include things such as the procedures used in the experiment, the risks and benefits to you, how your personal information will be handled, costs or compensation that may occur, and your rights as a participant.

Maintaining Ethics in Psychology

In order to regulate the standards of ethics in psychological research, the American Psychological Association, or the APA, has developed guidelines for the ethical conduct of research. This code was first published in 1953. It's revised as needed based on issues related to current research experiences.

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