Chapter 16: Ethical and Legal Issues
Ethics versus Law
1. Ethics deals with what one should or should not do, according to principles or norms of conduct.
2. The law deals with what one must or must not do, according to legal dictates.
Background on Professional Ethics
3. Three key documents provide background for contemporary ethical codes in psychology.
4. The first key document is the Hippocratic Oath.
5. This oath incorporated the notions of the primacy of the patient's welfare, competence and
6. The second key document is the Nuremberg Code.
7. This has been particularly influential in its insistence on the principle of voluntary consent.
8. The third key document is the Belmont Report which states the basic ethical principles governing the
use of human subjects in research.
9. The report identifies three basic ethical principles: respect for persons, beneficence and justice.
10. Ethical codes for a specific profession serve several purposes: (1) to provide guidance (2) to protect
the reputation of the profession.
Sources on Ethical Principles for Testing
11. There are two main documents for ethical principles applicable to psychological testing.
12. (1) The first is the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing which is filled with references
to what should or should not be done in the construction, administration, and interpretation of tests.
12. (2) The second main source of ethical principles applicable to testing is the American Psychological
Association's Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct.
13. The APA Ethics Code gives five basic principles. Then there are standards, each of which consist of
several specific points.
14. In addition to these two there are other sources relevant to the ethical use of tests (1) several other
professional associations have their own codes ethics, which include specific reference to test usage. (Ex.
The ACA Code of Ethics, NASP Professional Conduct Manual...)
15. The three organizations plus several other professional associations sponsored the Joint Committee on
Testing Practices which issued a Code of Fair Testing Practices in Education.
16. This code provides parallel standards for test developers and test users in four majors areas:
developing and selecting tests, administering and scoring tests, reporting and interpreting tests, and
informing test takers.
Generalizations about Ethical Uses of Tests
17. From all these sources we derive the following essential ethical principles applicable to the use of
18. To utilize tests responsibly, the psychologist should develop competence in assessment concepts and
19. Competence with respect to methodology implies conforming to the procedures for administering,
scoring and so on.
20. The competence principal has several subsidiary principles.
21. (1) The psychologist is responsible for continually updating his or her knowledge and skills regarding
22. (2) The psychologist must recognize the boundaries of competence.
23. (3) the code calls special attention to the need for knowledge regarding diverse populations.
1 Informed Consent
24. The patient, client or subject must voluntarily consent to the assessment and the psychologist is
responsible for informing the person about the nature and purpose of the assessment. Moreover the
psychologist must provide this information in a form and language understandable to the person.
25. Informed consent entails continuing consent, that is, the person may withdraw consent at any time.
26. The APA Ethics code includes some exceptions to the informed consent principle.
Knowledge of Results
27. The patient, client or subject has a right to full disclosure of test results and the psychologist should
provide these results and do so in language that is reasonably understandable to the individual.
28. Also like the informed consent principle, the knowledge of results principle has certain exceptions, for
example, in employment testing.
29. The psychologist should treat test results as confidential information. Release of the test results should
only be made to another qualified professional and with the consent of the client.
30. An important subsidiary principle to confidentiality relates to record keeping. The psychologist should