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Anna Nagy

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Chapter 3:
Milgrams Obedience Experiment:
Stanley Milgram conducted a series of experiments to study the
phenomenon of obedience to an authority figure the experiment is
the one with the teacher administering shocks to the learner (it was
staged) and it revealed that even when the learner was screaming in
pain, 65% of the participants still continued to administer shocks
because they were told to by the scientists.
The Belmont Report:
Current ethical guidelines for both behavioural and medical
researchers have their origins in The Belmont Report: Ethical
Principles and Guidelines for the Protections of Human Subjects of
This report defined the principles and applications that have guided
more detailed regulations and the American Psychological Association
Ethics Code.
The three basic ethical principles are beneficence, respect for persons
(autonomy), and justice. The associated applications of these
principles are assessment of risks and benefits, informed consent, and
selection of subjects.
Assessment of Risks and Benefits:
The principle of beneficence in the Belmont Report refers to the need
for research to maximize benefits and minimize any possible harmful
effects of participation.
In decisions about the ethics of research, we must calculate potential
risks and benefits that are likely to result; this is called a risk-benefit
analysis. Ethical principles require asking whether the research
procedures have minimized risk to participants.
The potential risks to participants include such factors as psychological
or physical harm and loss of confidentiality. In addition, the cost of
not conducting the study if in fact the proposed procedure is the only
way to collect potentially valuable data can be considered.
The benefits include direct benefits to the participants, such as an
educational benefit, acquisition of a new skill, or treatment for a
psychological or medical problem. There may also be material benefits
such as monetary payment, some sort of a gift, or even the possibility
of winning a prize in a raffle. Other less tangible benefits include the
satisfaction gained through being part of the research findings (e.g.,

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the knowledge gained through the research might improve future
educational practices, psychotherapy, or social policy).
Risks in Psychological Research:
Physical Harm- Procedures that could conceivably cause some physical
harm to participants are rare but possible. Many medical procedures
fall in this category—for example, administering a drug such as alcohol
or caffeine, or depriving people of sleep for an extended period of time.
The risks in such procedures require that great care be taken to make
them ethically acceptable. Moreover, there would need to be clear
benefits of the research that would outweigh the potential risks.
Stress- More common than physical stress is psychological stress. For
example, participants might be told that they will receive some
extremely intense electric shocks. They never actually receive the
shocks; it is the fear or anxiety during the waiting period that is the
variable of interest. Research by Schachter employing a procedure like
this showed that the anxiety produced a desire to affiliate with others
during the waiting period. In another procedure that produces
psychological stress, participants are given unfavourable feedback
about their personalities or abilities. Asking people about traumatic or
unpleasant events in their lives might also cause stress for some
participants. Thus, research that asks people to think about deaths of
a parent, spouse, or friend or their memories of living though a
disaster could trigger a stressful reaction. When stress is possible, it
must be asked whether all safeguards have been taken to help
participants deal with the stress. Usually there is a debriefing
session following the study that is designed to address any potential
problems that may arise during the research.
Loss of Privacy and Confidentiality- another risk is the loss of expected
privacy and confidentiality. Researchers must take care to protect the
privacy of individuals. At a minimum, researchers should protect
privacy by keeping all data locked in a secure place. Confidentiality
becomes particularly important when studying topics such as sexual
behaviour, divorce, family violence, or drug abuse; in these cases,
researchers may need to ask people very sensitive questions about
their private lives. It is extremely important that responses to such
questions be confidential. In most cases, the responses are completely
anonymous—this happens when questionnaires are administered to
groups or people and no information is asked that could be used to
indentify an individual. In other cases, such as a personal interview in
which the identity of the person might be known, the researcher must

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carefully plan ways of coding data, storing data, and explaining the
procedures to participants so that there is no question concerning the
confidentiality of responses. In some cases, the risks entailed with the
loss of confidentiality are so great that researchers may wish to apply
for a Certificate of Confidentiality from the U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services. Obtaining this certificate is appropriate when
the data could conceivably be the target of a legal subpoena. Another
privacy issue concerns concealed observation of behaviour. In some
studies, researchers make observations of behaviour in public places.
Observing people in shopping malls or in their cars does not seem to
present any major ethical problems. However, what if a researcher
wishes to observe behaviour in more private settings or in ways that
may violate individuals privacy (e.g., would it be ethical to rummage
through someones garbage or watch people in public restrooms?)
Informed Consent:
The Belmont Reports principle of respect for persons or autonomy
states that participants are treated as autonomous; they are capable of
making deliberate decisions about whether to participate in research.
The application here is informed consentpotential participants in a
research project should be provided with all information that might
influence their decision of whether to participate. Thus, research
participants should be informed about the purpose of the study, the
risks and benefits of participation, and their rights to refuse or
terminate participation in the study. They can freely consent or refuse
to participate in the research.
Informed Consent Form
Participants are usually provided with some type of informed consent
form that contains the information that participants need to make
their decision. Most commonly, the form is printed for the participant
to read and sing. In general consent forms should be written in simple
and straightforward language that avoids jargon and technical
terminology. To make the form easier to understand, it should not be
written in the first person; instead information should be provided as it
would if the researcher were simply having a conversation with the
Autonomy Issues
Special populations such as minors, patients in psychiatric hospitals,
or adults with cognitive impairments require special precautions.
When minors are asked to participate, for example, a written consent
form singed by a parent or guardian is generally required in addition
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