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Three Ethical Principles Important for Psychological Research

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Often when we think of ethics, we think of it as a set of rules that help distinguish right from wrong. The most common way of defining ethics is the norms of conduct in professional and societal settings. Ethics and ethical principles are very important to abide by and keep in mind when conducting psychological research, particularly as human participants are involved, as they set a guidance up to avoid failure or harm to the subject. The purpose of these codes of conduct is to protect research participants, the reputation of psychology and psychologists themselves. I will discuss three ethical principles in this short answer: Do No Harm, informed consent, and deception and explain why these principles are important in psychological research.

Informed consent

At the start of all research studies involving human participants, researchers must obtain consent. This means not just simply have the potential participants verbally confirm and say “yes”, they also have to understand what they are agreeing to beforehand. The psychologist performing the research must explain what is involved, how the study will be conducted, risks and benefits and the participant’s rights throughout the study and after conclusion, and then they may acquire the informed written consent of all participants involved if they are still interested. No cash rewards or other incentives can be offered or can a person in a position of power force individuals to participate, this ensures it is a fair and unbiased study. However, sometimes informed consent would provide a hindrance to the study or by impractical and meaningless, for instance in the cases of crowd behavior.

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Deception

The researchers cannot deceive participants in order to have them agree to be a part of the study, open and honest communication with the participant when possible is very important. In some cases, researchers need to deceive the participants in order to receive the best and most natural outcome of the study. Typically this is done to ensure participants don’t alter their behavior or reactions according to what they believe the researcher wants. This must only be done if useful data cannot be obtained with the participants knowing their involvement and their agreement would not change if they were to know the real purpose of the study. At the completion of the study researcher’s must “debrief” the participants, this is an opportunity for the researchers to explain the real reason for the study and the outcomes, also where the information will be used and to explain the participant’s rights.

Risks and Benefits

Researchers should also consider the risks and benefits of their proposed study on potential participants and the study should only continue if the benefits clearly outweigh the risks. Participants should always be informed of the potential risks in a study and researchers should ensure they are not put in any unnecessary harm. Researchers must ensure the study and material sourced from the study is used in a beneficial way for society and is not misused after conclusion. A proposed research study will go in front of an ethics committee to be further assessed for risks and benefits, they will then approve, deny or ask the researcher for more information. This process ensures fair and ethical research is done and is essential for psychological research in New Zealand.

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