Risks of Research: Physical Harm, Psychological Abuse & Legal Jeopardy

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  • 0:05 Risk Means Possible
  • 0:28 Physical Harm
  • 1:50 Psychological Harm
  • 3:31 Legal Harm
  • 4:23 Other Harm
  • 5:37 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.

There are many ways a researcher can harm a participant. This lesson explores the possible harmful actions of researchers, as well as ways to avoid these harmful actions.

Risk Means Possible

Psychological experiments come with a certain level of risk. Even in the best of circumstances and with the best intentions, something might happen to someone. We will look at some simple experiments and how they might cause physical, psychological, legal and other harm, as well as some possible ways to stop the harm.

Physical Harm

While it seems very strange that a person might have physical harm done to them during the course of a psychological experiment, it is not as implausible as you might think. We will define physical harm as pain, injury, illness or impairment caused by another.

Starting off with a simple experiment, let's say you are a researcher and are curious as to the effects of exercise on a person's mood. You assign a light, medium and intense workout regime to your subjects. If you do not have a medical doctor to consult with and you had a person with a heart or blood pressure issue assigned to an intense workout, then the resulting damage to their body is squarely on your shoulders.

One way to avoid physically harming your participants is to take an extensive history and provide highly detailed information about the experiment. The history might help you select individuals who may have preexisting conditions and remove them from the study. Presenting highly detailed information about the experiment prior to conducting it will help an individual decide whether he or she wants to join. If you are running an experiment with physical exertion or risk to the human body, it would be wise to include additional information so that people aware of their conditions can opt out of the experiment.

Psychological Harm

Psychological harm could be defined as emotional or cognitive disturbances resulting from another's actions. Psychological studies often probe into the dark places of the human mind, asking things that wouldn't make polite conversation topics. Normal people don't ask about another's sexual abuse history and other painful experiences, but psychologists do. And, in the quest to understand, it is not difficult for a researcher to overreach and push too hard to get an answer.

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