Upholding individuals' rights to confidentiality and privacy is a central tenet of every psychologist's work. However, many privacy issues are idiosyncratic to the research population, writes Susan Folkman, PhD, in "Ethics in Research with Human Participants" (APA, 2000). For instance, researchers need to devise ways to ask whether participants are willing to talk about sensitive topics without putting them in awkward situations, say experts. That could mean they provide a set of increasingly detailed interview questions so that participants can stop if they feel uncomfortable.
And because research participants have the freedom to choose how much information about themselves they will reveal and under what circumstances, psychologists should be careful when recruiting participants for a study, says Sangeeta Panicker, PhD, director of the APA Science Directorate's Research Ethics Office. For example, it's inappropriate to obtain contact information of members of a support group to solicit their participation in research. However, you could give your colleague who facilitates the group a letter to distribute that explains your research study and provides a way for individuals to contact you, if they're interested. Other steps researchers should take include:
1) Discuss the limits of confidentiality. Give participants information about how their data will be used, what will be done with case materials, photos and audio and video recordings, and secure their consent.
2) Know federal and state law. Know the ins and outs of state and federal law that might apply to your research. For instance, the Goals 2000: Education Act of 1994 prohibits asking children about religion, sex or family life without parental permission.
Another example is that, while most states only require licensed psychologists to comply with...