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Ethics of Psychological Research

Since psychologists use living subjects in their research, they should be sensitive to the ethical issues that may arise when conducting their experiments. Accordingly, the American Psychological Association (APA) and similar organizations in Canada and the United Kingdom have developed basic guidelines for dealing with subjects, both humans and animals (American Psychological Association, 1990). In the United States, federal law requires any organization that conducts research on federal budget money to have an internal supervisory board inside it to supervise the proposed research and ensure that all subjects are treated properly.

The first principle of ethical treatment of test subjects is risk minimization. The federal guidelines say that in most cases, the perceived risk in conducting research should not exceed the risk associated with ordinary daily life. Obviously, a person should not be inflicted physical harm or injury, but it is not always possible to unambiguously decide how much psychological stress is ethically justified in a particular research project. Of course, in ordinary life, people often behave impolite, lie and disturb others. Under what conditions would it be ethically justified for a researcher to do the same with a test subject in order to carry out a research project? These are precisely the issues that the supervisory board should consider in each individual case.

The second principle of ethical treatment of human subjects requires their informed consent. Subjects must participate in the study voluntarily and must have the right to refuse it at any time at will and without any fines. They are also required to warn in advance about all the features of the study that are likely to affect their desire to collaborate.

Like the principle of minimal risk, the requirement of informed consent is not always easy to implement. In particular, this requirement sometimes contradicts another generally accepted requirement to conduct a study: so that the subject does not know which hypotheses in this study are tested. If you plan to compare the memorization of familiar words by some test subjects and unfamiliar words by others, then no ethical problems will arise if you simply tell the subjects in advance that they will memorize word lists: they do not need to know how the words differ between different subjects. There will be no serious ethical problems, even if the subjects make a sudden test on the knowledge of words that they did not expect testing.
But what if a researcher needs to compare the memorization of words by subjects who are neutral, with the memorization of words by subjects who are in a state of anger or confusion? It is clear that this study will not give reliable conclusions if the subjects have to say in advance that they will be deliberately angered (through rough treatment) or deliberately confused (making them believe that they accidentally broke some device).

On this occasion, the instructions say that such studies can be carried out, but the subjects should be removed from ignorance as soon as possible after their participation. At the same time, they should be explained to them why they should have been kept in ignorance or deceived, and, in addition, their residual anger or confusion should be eliminated so that their dignity does not suffer, and the assessment of the study is increased. The Supervisory Board must be convinced that the procedure for removing subjects from the study meets these requirements.

The third ethical principle of research is the subjects' right to confidentiality. Information about a person obtained in the process of research should be considered confidential and exclude access to it of other persons without his consent. Usually, for this purpose, the names of the subjects and other information that allows them to be identified are separated from the received data. In this case, data identification is carried out by alphanumeric code. Thus, only the experimenter has access to the test results.

Approximately 7-8% of all psychological experiments use animals (mainly rodents and birds), and in very few of them animals undergo painful or harmful procedures. Nevertheless, in recent years there has been increased interest and debate about the use of animals in scientific research, their keeping and handling; the instructions of both the federal authorities and the APA require that all painful or harmful animal procedures be fully justified by the knowledge obtained from such a study. There are also special rules governing the living conditions of laboratory animals and procedures for their care.

In addition to specific instructions, there is a general ethical principle, which says that participants in psychological research should be considered full partners. Most of the research covered in this book was done before ethical guidelines were developed, and today would not be allowed by most supervisory boards.
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Ethics of Psychological Research

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