Psychological research, obedience and ethics
Psychological research, obedience and ethics

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Psychological research, obedience and ethics

Study 2

The ethics panel that considered Study 1 did not give approval. Following their feedback the psychologist revised the design of the study and resubmitted it.

Study 2

Figure 6

The revised study is to involve recruiting participants through a poster that will ask for volunteers to take part in a study on political communication. Volunteers will be informed that they have the right to withdraw from the study at any point and will be first asked to complete a ‘consent to participate’ form and then a questionnaire asking them about their background, likes and dislikes, and also whom they voted for in the last election. They will then attend a session that evening where the study will take place. The session will involve watching a party political broadcast and then answering questions in a group on how well the speaker communicated their ideas. At the end of the broadcast the researcher will apologise to the participants saying their questionnaires have all been accidentally lost, and ask them to state in front of the whole group of participants whom they voted for in the last election. By comparing how the participants said they had voted in the questionnaire and in front of the group, it will be possible to see if any had changed their mind as a result of being part of a group.

Think about the three ethics principles and how you might expect a psychological study to meet each one, and then decide whether you think this study meets each ethics principle.

Ethics principle 1 - Study 2

Wellbeing, health, values and dignity

a. 

Yes


b. 

No


The correct answer is b.

b. 

The revised study still involves the participants’ being required to say how they voted publicly in front of a group of people; that they are still being asked the question at all can be seen as not respecting their values, and they are also still being put in a position where they might feel obliged to state how they voted, or indeed to lie about this as a result of peer pressure, and this is likely to have a negative effect on their dignity.


Ethics principle 2 - Study 2

Informed consent

a. 

Yes


b. 

No


The correct answer is b.

b. 

Although the study now asks for volunteers and asks them to complete a consent form, this cannot be considered ‘informed’ consent because the researcher has not told them what the study is really about. Instead, the participants are being deceived about the real purpose of the study. A degree of deception is sometimes necessary in some forms of psychological research, but the degree of deception involved here is unethical as the participants are not being told in advance that they will be asked publicly about a confidential matter (voting behaviour).


Ethics principle 3 - Study 2

Right to withdraw

a. 

Yes


b. 

No


The correct answer is a.

a. 

Participants in this study would be aware that they were taking part in research, and were also told explicitly that they could withdraw from the study at any point. One view could be that as they did not know the true nature of the study, they were not able to withdraw from it, but this issue is dealt with under ‘informed consent’. Note that a study should not be given approval if it fails to meet any of the ethical principles.


Question 4

Would you give this study ethical approval?

a. 

Yes


b. 

No


The correct answer is b.

b. 

To be approved a study would need to meet all criteria. If it fails to meet just one, it should not receive approval.


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