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Chapter 3

PSYB01H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 3: Belmont Report, American Psychological Association, Stanley Milgram

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Anna Nagy

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Chapter 3 – Ethical Research
Milgram’s Obedience Experiment
Stanley Milgram conducted a series of experiments to study the phenomenon of
obedience to authority. He placed an ad in the newspaper offering to pay $4.50 to
males to participate in a study of “memory and learning”. In reality, it was an
experiment to see how much of a “shock” participants would administer to Mr.
Wallace (the “learner”) when he got a question wrong because they were told to
by authority.
When the teachers “shocked” Mr. Wallace with about 120 volts, Mr. Wallace
began screaming in pain and eventually yelled that he wanted out.
What if the teacher wanted to quit? This is what happened – they became visibly
upset by the “pain” Mr. Wallace was experiencing, but the scientist urged them to
continue using a specific series of verbal prods.
Approximately 65% of the participants continued to deliver shocks all the way to
450volts. This study received a great deal of publicity and has been applied to
many instances, such as the Holocaust. But what about the ethics of this
The Belmont Report
Current ethical guidelines for both behavioral and medical researchers have their
origins in The Belmont Report: Ethical Principles and guidelines for the
Protection of Human Subjects of Research
This report defined principles and applications that have guided more detailed
regulations and the American Psychology 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 benefice refers to the need for research to maximize benefits and
minimize any possible harmful effects of participation.
Risk-benefit analysis – we must calculate potential risks and benefits that are
likely to result from the experiment. Ethical principals require asking whether the
research procedures have minimized risk to participants.
Potential risks include factors such as psychological or physical harm and loss of
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 (ie. educational benefits),
material benefits (ie money), or less tangible benefits (ie. being a part of a
scientific experiment that has the potential to benefit society).
Current regulations concerning the conduct of research with human participants
requires a risk-benefit analysis before research can be approved.

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Risks in Psychological Research
Some potentially stressful research procedures are as follows:
Physical Harm
Procedures that could cause potential harm to a participant are rare, but exist
nonetheless. Many medical procedures fall in this category (ie administering a
The risks require that great care be taken to make them ethically acceptable and
there would need to be clear benefits of the research that would outweigh
potential risks.
More common than physical stress is psychological stress (ie extreme fear or
anxiety imposed on the participant by the experiment – Schachter told participants
they were going to receive an extreme shock, even though they weren’t, to
observe the effects of the anxiety)
Another form of possible stress is when researchers give unfavorable feedback
about the participants to observe the effects on their self esteem.
Another way stress may be caused is if you ask about traumatic events of the past.
When stress is possible, it must be asked if all safeguards have been taken to help
participants deal with the stress. Usually there is a “debriefing” following the
study that is designed to address and potential problems that may arise during the
Loss of Privacy and Confidentiality
Researchers must take care to protect the privacy of individuals. At minimum,
identities should be protected by keeping data locked in a safe place.
Confidentiality becomes especially important when studying sensitive subjects
such as sexual behavior, divorce, family violence, drug abuse, etc. In most cases,
responses are completely anonymous. This is the case, for example, with many
In cases, such as personal interviews, where the identity of the individual is
known, the researcher must take special care to plan ways of coding data, storing
data, and explaining the procedures to participants so there is no question about
In some cases, such as when individuals are studied on multiple occasions over
time, it is necessary to know the identity of the participants. In these cases,
researchers should develop ways to identify the individual but keep their identity
information separate from their data, so that if questionnaires or computerized
data was ever seen by anyone, it could not be linked to a specific individual.
If the risk entailed with loss of confidentiality is extreme, researchers may want to
apply for a Certificate of Confidentiality from the US Department of Health and
Human Services. Obtaining this certificate if appropriate when data could be the
target of legal subpoena.
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