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Discuss ethical issues involving human participants in psychology

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Discuss ethical issues involving human participants in psychology In most psychological experiments, human participants are used and sometimes this is unethical. This can range from not being allowed basic human rights (e.g. Zimbardo's experiment) to being told they are going to die e.g. an experiment in the 1960s which told people on a plane that the engine was about to fail. Milgram's experiment on obedience attracted a lot of criticism due to his treatment of the participants. It psychologically harmed many participants and this was evident from their reactions during and after the experiment, with many participants crying and harming themselves e.g. my digging their nails into their hands. Milgram claimed that this was justified because he did a follow up a year later to check that the participants were okay. However, this could be criticised because those participants who were still suffering probably wouldn't want to be associated with Milgram or the experiment anymore and so wouldn't have taken part in the follow up, thus missing their results out. ...read more.


Although the participants all consented to take part in the experiment, they were unaware of what the exact aim was and they were told that it was an experiment into learning techniques. This was an example of active deception as participants were misled about the purpose of the experiment and their role in it. Milgram argued that, if the findings had been different and it was found that the participants were not so socially obedient then there would have been little ethical issues raised. Milgram argues that all participants were given the right to withdraw. On the other hand, when participants tried to leave the experiment room or asked to stop, the experimenter encouraged them to continue, saying that the whole experiment would be ruined if they left. This was an example of verbal coercion because he was making the participants feel like they couldn't leave even though they could and it can be argued that this was also unethical. ...read more.


The findings of the experiment and their application to society must outweigh any ethical issues for participants, and it seems that both Milgram and Zimbardo weren't valid enough to reach conclusions. Psychologists have criticised Zimbardo's experiment, suggesting that it held demand characteristics and people just acted as they do in films rather than in a real-life prison. This indicates that they weren't justified. Another study that holds serious ethical issues is Humphrey's study into understudied relationships. He pretended to be a 'watchqueen' in a 'tearoom', a public toilet where homosexual men meet for sex. Humphreys made a note of the license plate numbers of the visitors to the tearoom. He then accesses the addresses of the car owners and interviewed them at home, claiming to be a health services worker. This study is unethical because, not only is it undertaken on a very sensitive issue but the participants had no idea they were in an experiment; there was lack of informed consent, deception and invasion of privacy. ...read more.

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