Ethical Issues in Social Psychological Research

Topics: Stanford prison experiment, Psychology, Ethics Pages: 17 (6256 words) Published: January 26, 2012

Ethical Issues in Social Psychological Research

Social psychological research has been conducted in response to many social concerns. Over the years the focus of research has changed greatly depending on the needs of society. However the main purpose has remained constant, which is to contribute to understanding individual thoughts, feelings, and behaviour in light of a broader social context. Social psychological research is done with both humans and animals. Therefore, researchers must adhere to certain codes of conduct in order to ensure that the participants are protected and not harmed in any way. The Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) (2000) has come up with four ethical principles that researchers ought to abide by in conducting research. The first principle which is “Respect for Dignity of Persons” is concerned with moral rights and should be given the highest weight out of all four principles (p. 2). The second principle which is “Responsible Caring” is concerned with competence and should be given the second highest weight (p. 2). The third principle which is “Integrity in Relationships”, this principle is concerned with honesty and should be given third highest weight (p. 2). The fourth and last principle which is “Responsibility to Society” is concerned with the benefit to society; however, an individual should not suffer for the betterment of society (p. 2). Therefore, this principle should be given the lowest weight out of the four. The purpose of this paper is to raise awareness to the importance of adhering to these ethical principles as a backbone to social psychological research. As well as not taking humans and societies for granted. In doing so, I will refer to two studies that have generated various ethical issues. The first study was conducted in 1963 by Stanley Milgram on destructive obedience. The second study was conducted in 1976 by Middlemist, Knowles, and Matter on the effects of invasions on personal space. In the beginning I will provide a summary of the ethical principles followed by a summary of the articles by Stanley Milgram, Diana Baumrind, Middlemist and authors, and Gerald P. Koocher. Finally, I will provide a critical analysis of the articles, explore the ethical concerns, and provide evidence on how the two studies mentioned above have violated the ethical principles as stated by the Canadian Psychological Association (2000). I will also include a discussion of what could have been done in order to minimize the cost to participants in both studies. However, before proceeding I would like to note that the two studies were conducted in the 1960s and 1970s and for this reason the principles stated in the CPA may not have been available to the researchers then. Summary of Ethical Principles:

Principle I: Respect for Dignity of Person
Throughout their work, psychologists come into contact with many different individuals and groups. As part of their work psychologists accept the responsibility of respecting the dignity of all the persons whom they come into contact with. This means that they believe that each person should be treated “primarily as a person or an end in him/herself, not as an object or a means to an end” (p. 8). Specifically, psychologists show utmost duty to those persons in vulnerable positions. In addition, they hold moral rights to a high level of importance and acknowledge the differences in cultures and groups. Psychologists acknowledge persons rights to privacy, personal liberty, natural justice and self-determination. In practice psychologist apply procedures that promote these rights, such as obtaining informed consent, protecting confidentiality, and exercising fair treatment. Psychologists also bear in mind the differences in power which certain individuals posses within families and communities. Therefore, psychologists are responsible for seeking ethical advice in protecting the persons...

References: Alcock, J. E., Carment, D. W., Sadava, S. W. (2005). A textbook of social psychology (6th
Baumrind, D. (1964). Some thoughts on ethics of research: After reading Milgram’s
“Behavioural study of obedience.” American Psychologist, 19, 421-423.
Canadian Psychological Association. (2000). Canadian code of ethics for psychologists
(3rd ed.)
Koocher, G. P. (1977). Bathroom behavior and human dignity. Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, 35, 120-121.
McBurney, D. H. & White, T. L. (2007). Research methods (7th ed.). California (CA):
Thomson Wadsworth.
Middlemist, R. D., Knowles, E. S, & Matter, C.P. (1976). Personal space invasions in the
lavatory: Suggestive evidence for arousal
Middlemist, R. D., Knowles, E. S, & Matter, C.P. (1977). What to do and what to report:
A reply to Koocher
Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social
Psychology, 67, 371-378.
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