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What is Ethics?

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Ethics is a system of rules and principles of conduct. Responses to a questionnaire being publicly discussed or two people being watched without their knowledge or permission would be two examples of breached ethics. The British Psychological Society (BPS) has issued guidelines of conduct, along with their American counterparts the American Psychological Association (APA). Although regulations have been implemented for the first hand participant, neither of these two institutions provide for extended groups associated to the participants, for example friends or family. The principles outlined by these two bodies must be adhered to when conducting psychological research to avoid inflicting physical or psychological consequences on investigators or participants. All participants fall into some type of category, for instance they could be young, old, male, and female or from an ethnic group. All of whom need protection. One such study that aroused controversy and was heavily criticised on ethics was Phillip Zimbardo's prison experiment. Zimbardo aimed to establish "What happens when you put good people in an evil place? ...read more.


Hairstyles were hidden by stockings, instead of being shaved. Names were replaced with numbers. All these effects were to eliminate evidence of any personal identity previously adopted by the prisoner. Through the progression of the experiment the personalities of the 24 participants changed dramatically. The guards began to act sadistically, and became inventive in their punishments. On one such occasion the guards breached human rights by disallowing the prisoners' fundamental right to sanitary relief. The prisoners however, started to withdraw and show signs of pathological behaviour, such as disorganised thinking, rages and uncontrollable crying. They no longer had ranks with unity, but were isolated individuals. The Stanford County Jail experiment was intended to last two weeks. However, six days after the start it was abruptly terminated. Strong objection came from Christina Maslach PhD when she witnessed the prison. She claimed "the prisoners were suffering degrading abuse unnecessarily". Christina was exercising the ethic 'Colleagues'. This is where "A psychologist who believes that another psychologist may be conducting research that is not in accordance with the ethical principles should encourage that researcher to re-evaluate the research". ...read more.


Withdrawal from the investigation is another ethic that investigators have to follow. This allows the participant to leave at any time during the experiment. Prisoners were offered on day four to forfeit the money and go home. The prisoners' reponses to this was to accept the offer, yet they still returned to their cells. Zimbardo wanted to design an authentic prison. However, from the start there was lacking in realism. Prisoners were snatched from their homes by police cars, omitting the usual court case that precedes a sentence. Guards were made to wear khaki, giving them an aura of military than prison guard. The procedure of removing prisoners' identification such as names and hairstyles, and the guards wearing sunglasses are not usual practices carried out in American prisons. Research needs to be continued, controversial issues need to be continually approached, even if it journeys into the boundaries of socially sensitive areas. Ethics may occasionally have to be broken for a comprehensive study of the mind to be conducted fully. This should not be done at detrimental costs to the investigators or participants. Investigators should also remain detached from the study, and maintain the observers' perspective to enable them to conduct the research objectively. ...read more.

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