Do the ends justify the means?
Hello there! Final blog before Christmas!!
So, as I’d like to stay PC, I shan’t say Merry Christmas, but rather:
Anyway! Getting on with the blog at hand, today I shall speak about whether all the ethical guidelines that we have to abide by today are important enough to stop us from doing really useful research.
Lets start off by discussing ethical guidelines. Ethics in Psychology is split into 3 sections, which aim to protect:
- The individual from physical or psychological harm
- The wider social group from harm or prejudice (socially sensitive research)
- Animals from abuse whilst being used in psychological experiment
For timekeeping and length, I’m just going to look at number 1.
So, to make sure that individuals are protected from physical or psychological harm, there are a set of ‘rules’ that we must follow.
- Deception – basically, not informing participants of the full intention of the study.
- Consent – making sure that you have someone’s full permission to use them as a participant (there are special cases, such as when using children, a parent or guardian’s permission must be given).
- Protection from physical and psychological harm – participants should be ‘exposed to no more risk than they would be in every day life’ (BPS guidelines). Psychological harm can be anything from a loss of self esteem to anxiety.
- The right to withdraw at any point in the experiment – participants can leave the study at any point, and can have their data withdrawn if they wish. They should be made aware of this at the start and finish of an experiment.
- Confidentiality – simple, anyone used in a study must be confidential and there should be no way to know who the data belongs to.
- Debriefing – inform participants of the point of the research. Make sure that there are no negative effects that were unforeseen. Make sure that they leave in a state of mind that is the same as when they started. Tell the participant again that they can withdraw at any time and allow them a chance to see the written up results when the study is finished.
Debriefing is particularly important if any form of deception has been used, to make sure the participant knows what the real purpose of the study was.
These guidelines came into use in 1978, before which some of what are still considered some of the most important studies were conducted.
Examples of this are Milgram’s study on obedience, Asch’s study on conformity and Zimbardo’s study on the influence of social roles.
Since I’m sure you’re all aware of these studies, I won’t go into detail describing them. However, if you’re not, have a read before you continue:
If any of these studies were proposed today, they would break so many ethical guidelines that they would more than likely not be allowed to go ahead. As I said, these studies provided us with a lot of knowledge and understanding and are still considered some of the most important to date. If the ethical guidelines are stopping us from conducting important research like this, and there’s so much treading on eggshells that we can’t truly do a great study, should we really have them?
Did you know that 84% of participants said that they were glad that they participated in Milgram’s study? Surely, this would make you think that even breaking the guidelines may be ok, if we learn something important, and participants obviously aren’t affected too badly.
But, is 84% enough? There were actually 1.3% of participants who said they ‘were very sorry to have taken part.’ While 1.3% isn’t very much out of 100%, does that mean they’re not worthy? Does the whole 100% of participants not deserve to feel good and well? The term ‘very sorry to have taken part’ implies to me that they suffered long term damages to their psychological health.
Zimbardo’s experiment was stopped after just 6 days! That says a lot about how badly the participants were being treated and how bad an affect the study was having on them.
I think, personally, that the people who were the prison guards will carry around guilt and fear knowing that they could behave like they did. Even after 6 days, they were badly affected. If the ethical guidelines that we have now had been in place then, this could have been avoided and those people may not have had guilt to carry around with them for the rest of their lives. Of course, I’m just theorising by this point.
However, if the ethical guidelines were around and the study hadn’t gone ahead, would we know what we do now? Do the ends justify the means?
I don’t think they do. I don’t think people, even that 1.3%, deserve to have a bad life so that we can learn something. There are always ways to learn things while still complying with ethical guidelines.
Don’t ruin the 1.3%.
So, that brings an end to my blogs for a few weeks. Have a good Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year and whatever other holiday you lovely people may celebrate.