Langston, Research Methods, Notes 4 -- Ethics
I.  Goals.
A.  Ethics.
B.  Your obligations as a researcher.
II.  Ethics.
A.  An example:  Go over Milgram.
B.  Compare it to APA standards:
1.  The investigator is responsible for ethics.  This includes an assessment of risks and a judgment that the research has some value.
2.  Participants should be volunteers (nobody should be forced to participate).  This is especially problematic when dealing with patient populations, children, prisoners, or students.
3.  Participants should give informed consent.  They should know in advance what is expected of them and what will happen.  Note that this is difficult because if they know everything, then you can't do the experiment because they know too much.  You want to tell them all you can without crossing the line.  This problem will rear its head in just about any experiment.  Look at the sample informed consent document to see what's involved.
4.  Participants have the right to stop at any time without losing any credit or reward earned up until that time.  You can't tell them things like “You must continue.”  If they want out, that's it.
5.  You should do no harm.  Participants should be in the same condition after your experiment that they were in before.  All precautions should be taken to prevent hurting them.
6.  Debriefing.  Participants should be told after the experiment exactly what they did and what you were looking for.  If they have questions, you have to answer them.  If any harm was done, you have to correct it.  A sample debriefing form is also available.
7.  Confidentiality/Anonymity.  Participants have the right to be anonymous and to have their name kept separate from any data they produce.  You're not allowed to identify a participant by name in association with that participant's data.  You also shouldn't list anyone who participated as a participant.
8.  Special problem:  Deception.  Sometimes, in order to do what you want to do you have to deceive participants.  But, that violates the principles above.  In this case, you have to weigh the value of the experiment against the costs.  To the extent that it's possible, deception should be minimized.  Why is it such a big problem?  Most of the good questions require it.  Example:  Eyewitness testimony.  But, if everyone is suspicious, we can't do good psychology (maybe worse than not deceiving).
C.  Were all of these followed in your previous research participation experience (get some people to talk about studies they were in)?
D.  Another example (that has methodological as well as ethical significance).  The design is similar to Rosenthal (1966):  What happens to the results of an experiment when the experimenter has an expectation in mind?  We get some students and tell them that we're replicating recent work on the relationship between race and IQ.  Then we give each of them a hypothesis to work with (give me some).  The thing is, none of these people are experimenters.  The real test is to see if the data they collect confirms their hypothesis.  What are some possible ethical problems with this research design?
III.  Your obligations as a researcher.  There are also things you as the researcher are obligated to do:
1.  Do not plagiarize.
2.  Do not fake data.
3.  Report expectations and results honestly.


Research Methods Notes 4
Will Langston

Back to Langston's Research Methods Page