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Ways of dealing with ethical issuers when using human participants in psychology experiments

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Ways of dealing with ethical issuers when using human participants in psychology experiments When conducting psychology research, there are several important standards that must be observed in order to protect study participants. Ethics are a set of moral principles used to guide human behaviour. When these guidelines are breached, they become ethical issues. Nowadays the British Psychology Society (BPS) uses a set of ethical guidelines for all psychology experiments to be bound to. Most ethical problems in human research stem from the participant being typically in as much less powerful position then the experimenter. It follows that steps need to be taken to ensure that the participant is not placed in a powerless and vulnerable position. All participants must have the basic right in experiments to stop their involvement at any given point. Furthermore, they do not have to feel obliged to explain the basis on which they have decided to withdraw if they choose not to, and they may also insist the data they provided during the experiment should be destroyed. ...read more.


Despite many ethical guidelines, previous psychological experiments have breeched these, therefore leading to significant ethical issues. In order to compensate for these downfalls, the experimenters can justify them or use techniques after the experiment is over to restore their ethical values. Milgram's (1974) research on obedience to authority was carried out in the days before most ethical guidelines were in place, however is still regarded unethical. The experiment involved asking participants to administer very strong electric shocks to another participant (although was in fact an experimenter who was involved in the study). The participants were deceived about key aspects of the study, such as the fact that the other person didn't actually receive any of the shocks the true participant was administering. However you must consider the affect having the participants know about the false shocks would have on the study. The results would be totally invalid as they would not then be measuring the obedience to the participants. ...read more.


This strongly suggests to us that the participants were very effected by their participation in the experiment. Additionally after the experiment they may have been left feeling ashamed, lower self esteem and degrading thoughts of themselves for have acted like they did. However again the debrief at the end reassured that they had not actually harmed anyone and that the electric shocks were false. They were also told that their behaviour was normal and that many others had acted in similar ways. All p's later received a detailed report on the study to illustrate the significance of their involvement in the study. Over 80% of the p's said they were glad to have taken part and only 1% expressed negative feelings. Overall despite the cost to the participants, the results produced from this experiment have been invaluable in extending knowledge on obedience. Still years after this experiment was conducted, the study holds massive insight into obedience and remains one of the most influential psychology studies in this area. Thus justified by the cost- benefit analysis. ...read more.

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Response to the question

Overall the student has provided a good answer to the question, covering the main ethical issues and methods of dealing with them such as the right to withdraw, informed consent, and debriefing. Their response is nicely explicit in the first ...

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Response to the question

Overall the student has provided a good answer to the question, covering the main ethical issues and methods of dealing with them such as the right to withdraw, informed consent, and debriefing. Their response is nicely explicit in the first half of the essay, although this gets a bit lost towards the end when they focus too much on describing an existing study. I would suggest they shorten the given example, and either replace with other short examples, or perhaps it would be nice to explore other ways to deal with ethical issues as this will demonstrate both their ability to describe examples concisely without going off an tangent, and also the more examples and responses to the question you can provide, the more you are demonstrating your wider knowledge and reading of the area which will score you high marks.

Level of analysis

Throughout the main body of the essay the student shows good analytical skills, providing relevant information on how ethical issues are dealt with in the real world (e.g. a precaution used is to debrief participants on the true aim of the study after if has been conducted) and providing clear examples (e.g. Milgram’s (1974) research on obedience to authority). As mentioned, the more relevant examples included, the more you can demonstrate your ability to link your knowledge of psychological studies to the issue of ethical concerns, which will lead to higher marks. Their coverage of the cost-benefits analysis is superb as it provides the readers with a clear way of dealing with potential ethical issues, for example, following on from their description of what a cost-benefit analysis is, their sentence “This helps justify many experiments as the outcome of some studies could be of huge beneficial value to society and the cost of participants seems insignificant to the influence it has made outside the study” provides the analysis that explains to the reader why it is important regarding the essay title. A trick to remember is example-description-analysis; firstly give your point or example, then describe exactly what this is, and finally provide your critical analysis and link it back to the question.
However, the essay fails to provide a solid introduction, and lacks a necessary concluding paragraph to summarize. I suggest more explanation of the guidelines from the BPS, and how these could potentially be the ‘answer’ of how to deal with ethical issues in the conclusion, as this will demonstrate that they have amalgamated all the information available and can reach an justified opinion based on the evidence provided.

Quality of writing

There is certainly room for improvement regarding the quality of writing; although the student is successful in including relevant and accurate psychological terminology, there are a number of spelling and grammar mistakes in the essay. Furthermore, as discussed above the structure of the essay does not meet the typical level required to achieve the highest marks. In order to achieve high marks, typically, an essay should have 1) a strong, concise introduction which states the topic of the essay clearly, introduces the ideas that will be discussed, and hints at the conclusion. 2) a main body which contains at least 2 or 3 main examples relevant to the question or a balanced argument for and against the topic if this is relevant to the question. 3) a short, but powerful conclusions which summarises the information given and reaches a personalised opinion on the topic.

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Reviewed by lcarter17 20/02/2012

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