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Ethics in Psychology Research Studies Term Paper

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Updated: Jul 19th, 2019

Psychology scientists often misinform participants of their research details in an attempt to mitigate placebo effects, reduce bias in self-reports and reduce risks on the safety of the researcher (Weiten, 2012).

Well documented and reported in the results of the study, deliberate deception may be admissible in scientific studies if the validity and independence value of the research result in positive outcomes.

Whereas critics fail to decipher how ‘lying’ could enhance results in a psychology study, certain subjects inevitably benefit from the inclusion of deceptive concepts.

Most defenders of deception hold the opinion that intentions of the involved ‘white lies’ causes no harm to the participants, but aid in obtaining crucial results that would otherwise not be possible to obtain.

Assessment of participants at the end of study further supports the opinion that deception does not necessarily cause harm to the participants as discussed below. However, scientific principles remain that a study must always uphold responsibility to the life and the psychological safety of the participants (Ortman, 2008).

Ethical questions arising from the Milgram’s study highlight the debate of the extent to which research must observe human dignity and respect. One of the most prominent ethical issues in research touches on the quality and nature of informed consent.

The rule of thumb in obtaining permission to conduct research on an individual requires their voluntary willingness to participate, which becomes the basis of accepting to take part in a research.

To this end, the quality of the informed consent cuts across how informed the participant gets at the end of the initial briefing (Cozby, 2012). All material information relating the studies carried out in the research must facilitate determination of quality of obtained informed consent.

This implies that the respondent must not feel coerced to participate by the slightest element of the information given to them to ask for their acceptance.

Relaying information in acquiring informed consent contributes to acceptance of the study by the participant. Withholding material information about the study compromises the ability of the participant to make an informed choice to participate.

Alternatively, withholding material information on the study subjects the participant and the image of the studies to potential harm. From Milgram’s study outcomes, the subjects seemingly experience an unpleasant and stressing handling (Cozby, 2012).

Other than exposing the participants to feelings of embarrassment and distress, studies withholding crucial information can affect participants’ relatives, friends and members of the family. The general feeling may potentially touch on the attitude that people have on the intended outcomes of psychological studies.

People may feel used and disrespected, which flouts the tenets scientific research on humans. In this regard, deception may generate resentment of future scientific studies on accusations of lack of honesty and respect for participants.

Perhaps, one of the most relieving aspects of the study by Milgram revolves around post-study assessment on the subjects. In post research assessment, Milgram found that the participants did not have regret complaints with the treatment sustained (Cozby, 2012).

In certain study outcomes, deception may form a pivotal concept in arriving at the right results. Human beings intellect tends to stand in the way of several psychological tests, by behaving differently thereby compromising the desired results.

Withholding the material information from the participants during acquisition of informed consent may dramatically increase the independence score of the study from the reactions of the subjects (Resnik, 2011).

Done within the admissible deception mitigation measures, such studies may reduce the negative impacts associated with deceiving human subjects in studies.

Instances of human behavior compromising the outcomes of a psychological study include for instance, in testing the psychological influences of drugs done with monitored scenarios using control drug and the real drug.

Informing subjects on every detail of the study may lead to certain undesired outcomes, which makes it imperative that certain information remains withheld.

In all cases of deception that scientific studies can accommodate, potential damage must fall within the minimum possible limits allowed by the standard mitigation measures. Among the prominent measures to reduce deception impacts, standard procedures entailing pre-consent treatment must suffice.

In pre-consent procedures, subjects get informed that certain critical information on the study would remain concealed without necessarily stating its nature. In such a move, informed consent encapsulates the willingness to continue amid potential unpleasant detail of the study.

On a different level, reduction of the deception detail facilitates the mitigation of potential damage emanating from a study with deceptive elements.

In reducing deception, researchers seek to obtain informed consent using deliberate statements such as “probably” and “potentially” among others that incorporate a degree of accurate relaying of the deception element (Shuttleworth, 2008).

However, in all cases of deception, researchers must protect the life and dignity of the subjects, by ensuring that the study does not expose them to dangers prohibited under the laws of natural justice.

Ordinarily, exposing human beings to electrical shock would amount to violations involving the law of torts.1 Such an attempt subsequently raises issues of violations of duty to care for people who entrust their lives to scientists.

Some studies would involve dangerous procedures, which even if not performed on an individual, mere simulation might expose respondents to psychological distress. The law of intentional torts covers protection of individuals from not only physical, but also psychological and emotional violations.

Withholding information to the details of the nature of the distress would amount to aiding violations of human rights.2

In defending the use of misleading information, scientists must also ensure that the responsibility of safeguarding the integrity of human life remains as a critical part of the studies.

Some studies cannot continue without elements of deception to the subjects, which does not hold back scientists from exploring the scientific topics and themes in those subjects (Weiten, 2012).

As illustrated below, in a world with increasing threats from terror groups and organized crime syndicates, the life of the researcher does not only face a threat but also interest in future studies hangs in the balance.

In a deliberate deceptive design, psychology researchers can engage threatening situations and deliver valuable results that matter to the world without necessarily endangering their lives thereby preventing cutting off interest in such potentially dangerous topics.

Seemingly, a significant group of defenders of deception in psychological studies holds the opinion that the cost of potential harm to participants is worth making when considered in perspective with the importance of the subject in life saving scenarios.

The advancement of knowledge justification provides a leeway to this school of thought that deception is unavoidable in the research society.

As mentioned above, when subjects obtain certain material information with the ability to alter their reaction and affect the outcomes of the study, deception comes in handy to such studies.

Debriefing the subjects upon completion of research and obtaining their perception of the study raises the confidence of the study among the public that science guards them against harmful procedures (Resnik, 2011).

Various contentions emerge, for instance when dealing with dangerous criminal groups in psychological studies to understand their obedience defects. Perhaps studying the elements of defiance among terrorists fits well in such an illustration of ethical issues.

As an illustration, some of the most prominent questions of research on terrorist ideologies would touch on the reaction in behavior of the subjects once they realize that the study intends to unearth such a sensitive issue.

Issues of trust may emerge leading to violent reactions since the group apparently suffers from systemic defiance and violence. Potential reaction would entail taking advantage of the research to propagate terror ideologies and bias in the intentions of the defiance behavior.

Equally, the life of the researcher would face threats as the dangerous outfit could be potentially endangering the life of the researcher. In an optimized scientific approach, seeking informed consent would characterize the risks involved and incorporate safety measures to overcome harm and reduce bias (Cozby, 2012).

In conducting such potentially dangerous studies dealing with deception, security of the researcher must also form part of the preparations for the study to counter violent reactions.

The participants may take the study as a tool of governments’ intervention against terror activities thereby reducing the cooperation of researchers in future attempts to involve such respondents.

This inherent distrust of researchers by the subjects spreads across several psychology studies where respondents feel used to deliver information with damaging outcomes, either psychological or physical as the reliance on such information by third parties may expose them to the perceived risks (Resnik, 2011).

Exposure to distressing experiences makes it difficult for respondents to admit regret, in studies where the overall benefit to the person and the society may outweigh individual displeasure. Certain studies produce higher resentment than others, which characterizes the degree of regrets and resentment along subject lines.

In terms of personal justification of psychology research using deception, the benefits of the study will always act as sufficient justification of the procedures.

On a personal note, exposing participants to risks will always be justified if the deception concept does not result in a grave violation of personal and human rights upon disclosure.

Alternatively, reduction in the degree of deception during pre-consent procedures may also act in favor of deception in studies where absolute deception would lead to resentment.

Personal view also touches on the possibility of compensation and mutual settlement of disputes where deception seemingly leads to violation of personal values, even when standard human values hold true (Cozby, 2012).

In all cases of deception, personal opinion leans on the premise that the value of the results will depend on the benefits obtained for the advancement of human life.


Cozby, P. C. (2012). Methods in behavioral research (11th ed). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Ortman, A. (2008). Deception in experiments: Revisiting the arguments in its defense. Ethics and Behavior, 18(1), 59-92.

Resnik, D. B. (2011). Web.

Shuttleworth, M. (2008). . Web.

Weiten, W. (2012). Psychology: Themes and variations. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.


1 Buckley, W. R., & Okrent, C. J. (204). Torts personal injury law, (Third ed). Clifton Park, NY: Delmar Learning, p130

2 Alice, (2011). Law of tort. Web.

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