Ethical Issues in Psychology

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Ethics are the moral codes laid down by professionals to ensure that their members or representatives adhere to certain standards of behaviour. All scientific bodies have such codes but those in psychology are particularly important because of the subject matter of the topic. The three main ethical issues in psychology using human participants are: Privacy, physical and psychological harm and deception. Deception involves either concealing the real intention of a study from participants or taking steps to mislead them at the start. Milgram used the second ploy, deliberately lying to participants about the genuine reason for a study. He also used stooges and the use of stooges always means deception has been used. However, is deception necessary? Milgram would argue that his experiments could not have taken place without it. Imagine if Milgram had said at the start, ‘Mr Wallace is really a stooge, who will scream a bit but will receive no shocks.’ The study would have told us nothing of interest, and obedience would doubtless have been close to 100%. To a lesser extent nearly all studies involve an element of deception in that it generally isn’t a good idea to tell your participants what you are looking for in advance. Menges (1973) estimated that as few as 3% of studies involve no deception at all. Protection from physical and psychological harm. The BPS guidelines suggest that participants should be exposed to no more risk than they would be in everyday life. For example people driving cars are exposed to a certain level of risk. If psychologists wish to study some aspect of driving related behaviour then the procedure they use should not put their participants at greater risk than this. There are occasions when researchers have caused their participants physical harm although these tend to be rare. Milgram appears to have delighted in the response of some of his participants who would ‘bite their lips and dig their fingernails into their...
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