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1. 2. Scientific Benefit vs. Ethical Cost In module 3, we looked at the ethical issues involved in psychological research, both with humans and animals. Some of the…
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  • 1. 2. Scientific Benefit vs. Ethical Cost In module 3, we looked at the ethical issues involved in psychological research, both with humans and animals. Some of the content can be reused here, but the emphasis this time is not so much on the ethical issues, it is on the balance between the ethical costs and the benefits gained from research. This controversy is all about the cost-benefit analysis that occurs in psychological research. In simple terms, the argument is between those who say that research outcomes that benefit many people outweigh the costs to individual participants, and those who argue the opposite; research that harms participants is never justified. However, this is a simplistic view. In reality, both sides agree that there are scientific benefits and ethical costs; the disagreement is about the subjective degree of these benefits and costs. a) Define scientific benefit What is a “scientific benefit”? This is the benefit in terms of knowledge and understanding gained from scientific research. A benefit could be something that we did not know before or it could be the improvement of existing knowledge. A benefit may also be assessed by the practical gains in terms of improved treatments for illnesses, changes to government policy on the basis of psychological research etc. Give an example from psychology ________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ a) Define ethical cost What is an “ethical cost”? This is the cost to the participants in the study. This could be in terms of psychological or physical trauma, a breach of confidentiality or privacy, the use of deception, a lack of a right to withdraw, or the lack of fully informed consent. These costs can be major, or relatively minor Give an example from psychology ________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ b) Discuss the balance of scientific benefits measured against ethical costs Why do ethical issues arise in psychology? According to Gross (2003) particular ethical issues are raised in psychological research because humans and animals have feelings and can experience pain, fear and so on. They are sentient thinking beings, and are capable of experiencing emotional as well as physical pain. There is also the issue raised that inducing such feelings in another being can be seen as morally unacceptable. These are issues that do not tend to arise in other sciences. The double obligation dilemma Psychologists have an obligation to two sets of people. Firstly the psychologist has an obligation to the participants. They have to ensure that the participant does not come to any harm as part of the study, and in essence should leave the study in the same state in which they entered. Secondly, the psychologist has an obligation to seek to and share knowledge which will better the human race. The controversy arises when there is a conflict of interest between these two groups of people. The costs to the participants can be seen as the ethical costs while the benefits to the human race would be the scientific benefits. The best way to weigh up the benefits and costs of psychological research is to look at specific ethical issues, and to choose studies from psychology to demonstrate the issue. What studies can you think of that raise particular ethical issues? 1
  • 2. 1. Deception and informed consent This occurs when what the participant believes is happening in the experiment is not what is actually going on. Because it is the experimenter who manipulates the situation, the participant can not know that they are being deceived. This is a feature of the experimenter’s greater power. The key ethical questions here are “Can failure to inform the participant of the true purpose of the experiment ever be justified?” and “Can the end justify the means?” Deception of any sort leads to issues with informed consent. A participant can still consent to take part in a study even if there is deception, but the consent will not be fully informed. There is always the possibility that if they knew the full aims of the study, they would not take part, and this would clearly present an ethical issue. Given that we can already see that deception can cause a variety of issues, what are the scientific benefits? Scientific Benefits of deception Typically, deception is used in experimental situations where if the participants knew the true aims of the study, it would invalidate the results. Two particular methodological issues arise here: describe them and think of an example. 1. _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ 2. _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ Give an example where valid results would not have been gained had deception not been used Arguments for the use of deception As noted above, there are various methodological justifications why deception is often vital in psychological experiments. But there are also ethical justifications for the use of deception. The double obligation dilemma (see above). The outcome of an experiment outweighs the deception used on the participants. • For example: ____________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ When questioned after an experiment, participants often report being bothered little by the deception involved • For example, in Asch’s study, most of the actual participants who were deceived were very enthusiastic and expressed their admiration for the elegance of the experimental procedure and the significance of the results. • Similarly, Milgram: _______________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ 2
  • 3. Milgram argued that deception can be justified for one reason only: they are in the end endorsed by those who are exposed to them. He is quoted as saying “the participant rather than the external critic must be the ultimate source of judgment”. • However, what is a problem with Milgram’s logic? __________________________ __________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________ Deception is usually minor, and causes no lasting psychological or physical damage. Christensen (1988) concluded that as long as deception isn’t extreme, participants don’t seem to mind. Therefore, the widespread use of mild forms of deception is justified because no-one is harmed, and there are few acceptable alternatives. • For example: ____________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ Ethical costs of deception At the other extreme of the argument, we have the issue that it is generally accepted that in life, deception is bad, and should be avoided. It could be argued that this should still be true in psychology, and that any form of deception is immoral and unacceptable. However, generally the argument is over the acceptable degree of deception, and its effects. Arguments against the use of deception The main ethical issue with deception is the potential stress and harm it may cause the participant. If a participant is deceived into taking part in an experiment, or deceived throughout the experiment, they may experience negative emotions such as embarrassment, stress, anxiety or depression. • Eg: ____________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ Another issue with the use of deception is that when a participant is deceived about the true aims of a study, they are therefore unable to give a fully informed consent. This can cause an issue, as it could be argued that if the participants knew the true aims of the study, they would not consent to take part. Think of a study in psychology where it could be argued that if participants had known the full aims, they would not have consented. • Eg: ____________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ Overcoming the issue of deception As we have seen above, deception is used regularly in psychology, particularly in lab experiments. However, psychologists do make efforts to overcome the negative effects of deception. • Debriefing: a post research interview designed to inform the participants of the true nature of the study and to restore them to the same state that they were in at the start of the study. However, what issues are there with the use of a debrief? (Use examples) o ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 3
  • 4. • Presumptive consent: This is where the views of a large number of people are obtained about the acceptability of an experimental procedure. These people are to be as similar to the actual participants as possible. They are told in detail the full procedure of a study, and asked to assess whether they would take part. If they would, it could be assumed that others would have no issues. However, what issues arise from the use of presumptive consent? o ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ Incidentally, it could be argued that even when participants are given fully informed consent an know all about the aims of the study, and no deception takes place, they still might not fully understand the implications and consequences of taking part in the study, How could this argument be applied to Zimbardo’s prison study? • _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________ 2. Harm to participants There is always a risk that participants will come to either psychological or physical harm during an experiment. This harm may be great (such as in Zimbardo or Milgram) or might be relatively minor (_____________________________________). However, the general guideline is that participants should experience no more psychological or physical risk as they would in everyday life. Scientific benefits Milgram argued that if we excluded any study which created stress or conflict, and only allowed studies that produced positive emotions, we would have a very lopsided view of psychology, one that “caricatured rather than accurately reflected human experience”. Milgram went on to highlight that the most informative experiments in social psychology include those where the participants resolve conflict of some kind e.g. ___________________________________________________. If we excluded the study of such core human issues, we would lose a great deal of important scientific information about the study of human behaviour. Ethical costs The other hand to this argument however is that in the studies mentioned above, the scientific benefits were not apparent from the outset of the experiment. It is only in retrospect that we see the studies as important. At the time, the participants suffered distress, and probably would have cared little for the scientific benefits • However: the ethical costs were also not apparent at the outset. The researchers did not know that there would be such negative consequences. Ethically, can this be justified? 3. Ethical issues raised by other types of research method Much of what we have looked at has focused on issues raised by lab experiments. However, psychologists can investigate human behaviour in a number of ways. Each of these other research methods raises its own set of ethical issues. Below, we look at the issues raised by three more research methods; observations, field studies and case studies. 4
  • 5. Scientific benefits of observations More natural behaviour: In a naturalistic observation, the participants are unaware that they are being observed (particularly in a covert observation). This provides scientific benefits in terms of reduced demand characteristics and lowered participant effects. The participants are behaving in a natural way, and so the behaviour is much more valid. Give an example of an observation, detailing the scientific benefit that was gained _______________________________________________ _________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ Ethical costs of observations Privacy and confidentiality: if participants are unaware that they are being observed, it may be argued that it is an invasion of privacy. Again, if this not acceptable behaviour in real life, it should not be acceptable in psychological experiments. A general rule is that it is ok to observe people in situations where they expect to be observed such as a café or a train station. However, some psychological studies have broken this by observing people where they do not expect to be observed (such as public toilets – Middlemist et al). It could also be argued that covert observations lead to issues with deception, and right to withdraw and these could lead to potential psychological harm. What ethical issues are raised by the study above? _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ Scientific benefits of field experiments Validity of results: again, as with observations, field studies have the advantage of being carried out in the participants own environment. Therefore they have higher ecological validity. Often, a field study is the only way to investigate a certain area of psychology (for example, Langer and Rodin’s study of perceived control and health in the elderly). Also, as in field study, participants are often unaware of being in a study, the behaviour is more valid. What were the scientific benefits from Langer and Rodin? _________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ Ethical costs of field experiments What ethical issues are raised by the use of field studies? In particular, what issues were raised by Langer and Rodin’s study? ____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ Scientific benefits of case studies Validity: again, more valid data as it is a person’s real life situation which is being investigated. Sometime it’s the only way: sometimes, a case study is the only way to investigate particular phenomena, such as brain damage (HM, Clive Wearing) or extreme neglect (Genie). The scientific benefits of such studies are high, as the situation, circumstances or illness is unique, and much information can be gained. 5
  • 6. What scientific benefit did we get from the case studies above? ___________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ Ethical costs of case studies What are the ethical costs of case studies, particularly the ones mentioned above? ___________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________ 4. Ethical issues raised by the use of animals Not all psychological research uses humans. Much research involves the use of non-human animals. Non- human animals are used in psychology for two main reasons • When it would be unethical to use human participants (for example _________________________) • To learn about animal behaviour (for example __________________________________) There are a number of practical reasons why we use animals. Animals are cheaper, easier to control and have quick breeding cycles. Also, it is argued that because of evolution, there is continuity between humans and other animals, meaning that results can be generalised. Scientific benefits of animal studies The main justification in the use of animal experimentation is the pursuit of scientific knowledge or for the advancement of medicine. People who support animal experimentation argue that without the use of animals for medical trials, there would be few if any advances in medicine. Gray (1991) argues that most people would accept the ethical principle that inflicting pain is wrong. However researchers are often faced with a moral choice; choosing between human and animal suffering. Gray argues that speciesism is not only justified, it is our duty to carry out animal research to lead to the long term alleviation of human suffering. Name an animal study and state what scientific benefit has been gained: _________
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