Ethical Guidelines for Psychological Experiments

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As a result of measures brought in to reduce the amount of unethical aspects of psychological experiments most experiments need to be approved by an ethics committee. This, of course, does not always prevent an experiment from being unethical. Milgram and Zimbardo's experiments, which I shall elaborate on, were both approved by ethics councils but they are now known as some of the most unethical experiments to date. There are several commonly occurring ethical issues that come up in many experiments.

Deception is an issues that often crops up in psychological experiments and, to an extent it is allowed in most experiments. Deception refers to concealing information from the participants. This is one of the ethical problems with Milgram's experiment. In Milgram's study, the participants were led to believe that they were administering (at times deadly) electrical shocks to another person. This, of course, is highly unethical and caused distress to some of the participants (distress/harm is another issue). However, deception is at times necessary as the validity of the experiments may be compromised if the participants have too much information. For example, if the participants in Milgram's study were told that they were carrying out an experiment to see of people were so blindly obedient that they would be willing to kill someone if told to, the results from the experiment would be completely different.

Informed Consent
There is an element of leverage when it comes to informed consent which connects to the issues of deception. Informed consent means that the experimenters should get permission from the participants to take part in exactly what they are investigation. This means that the participants should be told the aim of the experiment. Many psychologists instead settle for just, consent. If the participant knows too much about the experiment they may mould their behaviour to fit in with what they think the experimenter want to find, this is called demand characteristics.

Protection of participants
The experimenter must make sure that at no point during the experiment are the participants harmed physically or mentally. This was an issue in Zimbardo's prison study. "Normal" college students were placed inside a mock prison in Stanford University and assigned the role of either a guard or a prisoner. During the course of the experiment, the prisoners began the exhibit strongly negative emotions, five prisoners had to be released early due to extreme emotional depression, crying, rage and acute anxiety.

Withdrawal from the investigation
The participant must always have the right to cease taking part in the experiment without pressure from the experimenter(s). It is argued that this was the case in Milgram's experiment but it can be said that the participants were forced to continued taking part as they were given prompts (Please continue, The experiment requires that you continue, It is absolutely essential that you continue, You have no other choice, you must go on) that made it hard for them to refuse.

The identities of those who took part in the experiment must not be exposed unless it is imperative to the experiments and they have given permission for this to be done.

This is particularly necessary if deception has bee used. The participants should be told the true nature of the experiments, that is, what exactly the experiment was about. This is one way in which psychologists can make sure that the participants are in the same condition when the finish the experiment as they were when the began it.

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