Ethical Issues - Obedience to Authority

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Discuss ethical issues arising from studies of obedience to authority.

Ethics are standards which distinguish between what is right and wrong, and psychological studies must comply with certain ethical guidelines. Studies face issues regarding whether the study is acceptable and justified. Some of these guidelines include deception, consent, psychological harm, right to withdraw, confidentiality and a thorough debriefing, which were produced to help psychologists resolve ethical issues in research and protect participants.

However, in some cases breaching these guidelines is unavoidable to produce sound results and is therefore justified. Many studies in investigating obedience to authority have been questioned for its ethical issues. Milgram’s study has particularly been criticised for being ethically unacceptable. It involved deception, right to withdraw, consent and psychological harm. The participants were deceived about key aspects of the study, such as the fact that the other person did not actually receive any shocks. This also meant that the participants couldn’t give informed consent because they agreed to something which wasn’t true. Also, when any of the participants said they wanted to leave the experiment or to stop giving electric shocks, they were told that they had to continue with the experiment. Now, it is standard practice to make it clear to participants that they have the right to withdraw from the experiment at any time without providing an explanation. Consequently, psychological harm was present in participants as they showed signs of stress and were pressured to continue by the experimenter when they wanted to stop. Although, Milgram gave an extensive debrief including being reunited with the ‘learner’. In that debrief it was found that 84% were glad they participated so could justify the ethical issues which were arose. However, this doesn’t mean the participants weren’t psychologically harmed by knowing they were willing to give...
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