To be able to recognise ethical issues
To be able to plan around ethical issues.
Ethical Issues and
How to deal with
What do you think the ethics that
need to be considered are?
Ethical issue Definition
Consent The participant must give permission to take part knowing the true
aims of the study and must know what they are expected to do.
This is not always convenient and there are ways around this.
Right to Withdraw Participants must have the option to leave the study and withdraw
all of their data at any time.
Participants must not experience any more harm than they would in
every day life. Eg- severe embarrassment would be considered
psychological harm as would distress,
Confidentiality All information collected must be published in a way that does not
identify the participant. From the researchers point of view this is
difficult but they can promise anonymity. From the participants
point it is a legal requirement.
Deception This is when participants have been told a false purpose for the
research. This is sometimes needed to prevent participants acting in
a unnatural way.
Privacy Some research makes it hard to not invade participants privacy. Eg
observing someone in a shop. Participants may not mind being
observed in public places but it would be unacceptable to observe
in their private home.
It is not always possible to stick to the ethical guidelines as
this may jeopardise the results of your research.
Therefore you can break guidelines provided you can justify
your reasons and you must find a way around the issue.
The cost to the participant must be less than the benefit to
James is investigating the way in which members of the public react when a
black person falls over compared to a white person.
Lucy wishes to investigate the role of group identities by telling participants
they are playing a game. Participants are separated into 2 groups but it is not
the group that wins, it is an individual. Throughout the game people have the
opportunity to eliminate someone from either group and to save people from
either group. She wanted to see if people were more likely to save people in
their own group even though it doesn’t effect their chances of winning.
Why might Informed consent be
difficult to gain in the above scenarios?
Presumptive consent- Gain informed consent from people
not taking part in the study and assume that if these people
would consent then your participants would as well.
The right to Withdraw- always give participants the right
to withdraw at any point during the research,
Limitation- people may consent to things in advance but
when it came to doing the research they may not wish to
How can they overcome the issue
of not gaining informed consent?
Lucy wishes to investigate the role of group identities by
telling participants they are playing a game. Participants are
separated into 2 groups but it is not the group that wins, it is
an individual. Throughout the game people have the
opportunity to eliminate someone from either group and to
same people from either group. She wanted to see if people
were more likely to save people in their own group even
though it doesn’t effect their chances of winning.
She also broke the
deception rule… what can
she do now?
Before she can deceive her participants she needs
permission from the ethics committee who will weigh up
the cost to the participants and the benefit to psychological
This will not always work as the costs and benefits are not
always obvious before the research is conducted.
She will need to Debrief her participants. This means that
once the research has been completed she needs to reveal
the true purpose of the research and give her participants
opportunity to withdraw their data if they wish.
Ways around deception.
• Privacy- sometimes you need to observe behaviour without people knowing
they are being observed. Only do this is a public place.
• Right to Withdraw- Some participants may be given rewards/money for
participating in research and therefore feel that they cant withdraw from the
study. Participants must always be allowed to withdraw- even if they have
• Protection from harm- if participants are experiencing more harm or
getting more distressed than they would in every day life then you must end
the study immediately. It is not always possible to predict how harmful a
piece of research will be so be ready to end it early if needed.
• Confidentiality- you must always make participants unidentifiable. This
means either giving them false names or a number. It is not always possible
as certain information like the location of a school and other information
published may help to identify the participants. In practice confidentiality
may not always be possible.
Other issues explained…
• Children are considered to be participants under the age
of 16. They cannot give consent themselves so you would
need to gain consent from their parent/guardian.
• Similar is true for vulnerable participants. They need their
carer or someone that is in a position of trust to consent to
the research taking place.
• This is a safe-guarding procedure.
Investigating children or
• Look at the scenarios you have been given.
• Identify any ethical guidelines that been broken and
decide on ways in which they can be dealt with.
A case study was carried out on Peter whose brain was damaged in a motorcycle
accident. Psychologists tested how many numbers he could hold in his short-term
memory. They did this by reading him lists of numbers and asking him to recall the
numbers immediately in the right order. He could recall a maximum of two items. The
psychologists found that his long-term memory was normal.
2 (c) Identify one ethical issue associated with this case study of Peter. Suggest how
psychologists could deal with this ethical issue.
How psychologists could deal with this ethical issue
- There are no specific guidelines relating to brain damaged
participants so you could mention any of the following.
- Informed consent, confidentiality, right to withdraw.
- Stating 1 simple way of overcoming this issue would give 1
mark and then a further 2 marks for elaborating it.
- An ethical issue to consider is informed consent. This is
because he is brain damaged and may not be able to give
consent himself. To overcome this issue the researchers could
explain the purpose of the research to his carers and gain
consent from them. Alternatively they could give him the right
to withdraw at any time during the investigation, withdrawing
his data as well or they could get presumptive consent from
other people who do not have a connection with peter or the