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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Discuss how research involving human subjects is regulated
  • Summarize the processes of informed consent and debriefing
  • Explain how research involving animal subjects is regulated

Today, scientists agree that good research is ethical in nature and is guided by a basic respect for human dignity and safety. However, as you will read in the feature box, this has not always been the case. Modern researchers must demonstrate that the research they perform is ethically sound. This section presents how ethical considerations affect the design and implementation of research conducted today.

Research involving human participants

Any experiment involving the participation of human subjects is governed by extensive, strict guidelines designed to ensure that the experiment does not result in harm. Any research institution that receives federal support for research involving human participants must have access to an institutional review board (IRB) . The IRB is a committee of individuals often made up of members of the institution’s administration, scientists, and community members ( [link] ). The purpose of the IRB is to review proposals for research that involves human participants. The IRB reviews these proposals with the principles mentioned above in mind, and generally, approval from the IRB is required in order for the experiment to proceed.

A photograph shows a group of people seated around tables in a meeting room.
An institution’s IRB meets regularly to review experimental proposals that involve human participants. (credit: modification of work by Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange (LAKE)/Flickr)

An institution’s IRB requires several components in any experiment it approves. For one, each participant must sign an informed consent form before they can participate in the experiment. An informed consent    form provides a written description of what participants can expect during the experiment, including potential risks and implications of the research. It also lets participants know that their involvement is completely voluntary and can be discontinued without penalty at any time. Furthermore, the informed consent guarantees that any data collected in the experiment will remain completely confidential. In cases where research participants are under the age of 18, the parents or legal guardians are required to sign the informed consent form.

While the informed consent form should be as honest as possible in describing exactly what participants will be doing, sometimes deception is necessary to prevent participants’ knowledge of the exact research question from affecting the results of the study. Deception involves purposely misleading experiment participants in order to maintain the integrity of the experiment, but not to the point where the deception could be considered harmful. For example, if we are interested in how our opinion of someone is affected by their attire, we might use deception in describing the experiment to prevent that knowledge from affecting participants’ responses. In cases where deception is involved, participants must receive a full debriefing    upon conclusion of the study—complete, honest information about the purpose of the experiment, how the data collected will be used, the reasons why deception was necessary, and information about how to obtain additional information about the study.

Ethics and the tuskegee syphilis study

Unfortunately, the ethical guidelines that exist for research today were not always applied in the past. In 1932, poor, rural, black, male sharecroppers from Tuskegee, Alabama, were recruited to participate in an experiment conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service, with the aim of studying syphilis in black men ( [link] ). In exchange for free medical care, meals, and burial insurance, 600 men agreed to participate in the study. A little more than half of the men tested positive for syphilis, and they served as the experimental group (given that the researchers could not randomly assign participants to groups, this represents a quasi-experiment). The remaining syphilis-free individuals served as the control group. However, those individuals that tested positive for syphilis were never informed that they had the disease.

While there was no treatment for syphilis when the study began, by 1947 penicillin was recognized as an effective treatment for the disease. Despite this, no penicillin was administered to the participants in this study, and the participants were not allowed to seek treatment at any other facilities if they continued in the study. Over the course of 40 years, many of the participants unknowingly spread syphilis to their wives (and subsequently their children born from their wives) and eventually died because they never received treatment for the disease. This study was discontinued in 1972 when the experiment was discovered by the national press (Tuskegee University, n.d.). The resulting outrage over the experiment led directly to the National Research Act of 1974 and the strict ethical guidelines for research on humans described in this chapter. Why is this study unethical? How were the men who participated and their families harmed as a function of this research?

A photograph shows a person administering an injection.
A participant in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study receives an injection.

Research involving animal subjects

Many psychologists conduct research involving animal subjects. Often, these researchers use rodents ( [link] ) or birds as the subjects of their experiments—the APA estimates that 90% of all animal research in psychology uses these species (American Psychological Association, n.d.). Because many basic processes in animals are sufficiently similar to those in humans, these animals are acceptable substitutes for research that would be considered unethical in human participants.

A photograph shows a rat.
Rats, like the one shown here, often serve as the subjects of animal research.

This does not mean that animal researchers are immune to ethical concerns. Indeed, the humane and ethical treatment of animal research subjects is a critical aspect of this type of research. Researchers must design their experiments to minimize any pain or distress experienced by animals serving as research subjects.

Whereas IRBs review research proposals that involve human participants, animal experimental proposals are reviewed by an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC)    . An IACUC consists of institutional administrators, scientists, veterinarians, and community members. This committee is charged with ensuring that all experimental proposals require the humane treatment of animal research subjects. It also conducts semi-annual inspections of all animal facilities to ensure that the research protocols are being followed. No animal research project can proceed without the committee’s approval.

Summary

Ethics in research is an evolving field, and some practices that were accepted or tolerated in the past would be considered unethical today. Researchers are expected to adhere to basic ethical guidelines when conducting experiments that involve human participants. Any experiment involving human participants must be approved by an IRB. Participation in experiments is voluntary and requires informed consent of the participants. If any deception is involved in the experiment, each participant must be fully debriefed upon the conclusion of the study.

Animal research is also held to a high ethical standard. Researchers who use animals as experimental subjects must design their projects so that pain and distress are minimized. Animal research requires the approval of an IACUC, and all animal facilities are subject to regular inspections to ensure that animals are being treated humanely.

Personal application questions

Take a few minutes to think about all of the advancements that our society has achieved as a function of research involving animal subjects. How have you, a friend, or a family member benefited directly from this kind of research?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

Questions & Answers

what are the basic statistical concepts in psychological research ?
Pawanjeet Reply
mean ,median ,NPC ,t ,z test
Soumyashree
what is the NPC?
Fouad
Maen median mood stander daviation
Janat
Percentile also
Janat
NPC stans for normal probability curve
Janat
Normal probability curve (NPC)
Janat
yez
Soumyashree
Yhn koi b questione kr skta h?
Janat
is there any scale for measuring post COVID Anxiety?
Richard Reply
I'd like to know if there's any?
Zino
I've heard about Coronavirus Anxiety Scale (CAS). It works as a mental health screener but I'm not sure anyone can do the test except psychologist
divani
Thanks !
Zino
no
Hausa
Thanks Divani zahra
Mohd
explain the function how intelligence and learning function together
Truvanie Reply
Learning comes before intelligence Learning could be the process of acquiring knowledge. Or the ability to gain knowledge Whereas intelligence is the display of acquired knowledge.
Felix
I love it
Teena
schools of psychology
Onogwu Reply
hi
giri
hi
Swapnil
hi
Munir
hello
Imsekar
hai
Tu
Hi
piya
hello
kajal
Hello
Mohamed
hii
grace
hi
george
hi
Anuja
hi
kajal
gud night
grace
Good night everyone
Anuja
good night 😴🌃
Swapnil
hello
Ananya
What's the point of this chat section?
Mohamed
to say hello and to feel solidarity.
Tu
the early childhood can reference the emotions?
Sammi Reply
Our early childhood experiences are important in the development of our personalities. It kind of shapes our behaviour and mannerism.
Debarpita
Especially in choosing career
Felix
😅Well that's complicated. It differs from person to person.
Debarpita
The early childhood or let's say your upbringing plays a vital role in driving your emotions. If one did not have a pleasant childhood it's highly likely they are more vulnerable to depression or some other psychological condition.
Indefatigable
how to change the emotion?
Sammi Reply
change the thought at hand .
Shawnte
Then I'm assuming the mind will begin to let go of the prior emotion.
Shawnte
Yes right. Think about something else, then emotion will follow.
Annie
then join life
Munir
I don't understand about this
Munir
Emotions run hand in hand with the mind and environment. A person can be sad or angry on a certain things going on in their mind then something can happen in the environment around them that m adds keys them happy.
Douglas
how has the new legalization of marijuana effected the anti drug programs
Summer Reply
how to change the emotional ?
Sammi
I am wrilly interisting about big problems psihycil nature between famillys/like parents bully some childe physically , even hall life and show some kinde of heath and $inaid
Zorica Reply
same
Gaea
Never give minor issues space. Time creates space, more time more space therefore if u give a small issue more time it gets more space in your mind hence breeding stress
Andrew Reply
yes yes yes so true
Gaea
hi..my brother gets angry Everytime I say no to him for anything he ask for he don't talk to me after that.. Everytime I only have to say sorry so this time I decided not to say sorry he haven't talked to me for two weeks I am so stressed what should I do
Nush
give him so time. I think you should let him figure out his own feelings. plus, you did the right thing. he needs to know that not everyone will give him what he wants.
Gaea
Don't be stressed out . You did right thing. but remember one thing don't show angry gestures to him or don't try to make him realize by teasing or scolding. If you try to be humble and patient, he may understand his mistake on his own.
PARUL
yeah
Gaea
Hi everyone! So i'm gonna be a college freshman soon and i'm gonna major in Psychology😬 but lately i've been worrying about what job i'm gonna have after getting my Bachelor's degree. Any tips or advice?
Angelique Reply
I think minimum of a masters degree is needed in order to get a job once you do mphil and phd u gonna get licence to work as a clinical psychologist and a lot more options 😊best wishes
kitty
hi...my brother gets angry with me anytime I say no to him for anything he ask for and stop talking to me every time I only have to say sorry..so I decided this time not to say sorry he haven't talked to me at all what should I do please help me
Nush
I think it's just a matter of ego and pride.they may have a kind of feeling like if they apologize it hurts their integrity and pride. Some people never admit they are wrong and it creates stress in the other person. .some people are not empathetic and they always want to feel cared n lovedbyother
kitty
so what can we do..if you are a person who always says sorry it's a good indicator that you have such a broad mind where you are ready to solve problems n you love them even though they are bad at you..basically everyone in this whole world is selfish..humans are selfish but there are some people
kitty
like you whom God created just to solve problems and lead other people in a better way..what you should do is create a beautiful bonding bw your bro ask him softly about his problems..love him more..and eventually he may become softer and lovable
kitty
if your bro is an introvert there could be chances where he has got several problems he haven't discussed with anybody which brings out their egoistic behr and blunt nature...ask him to say about his problems..make him understand the importance of apologies and empathetic behr..and try not to end up
kitty
in a fight discussing these things...u should softly deal with it..even if other people let you down or didn't say sorry to you doesn't mean that you r wrong..u are saying sorry everytime because u have a good heart..
kitty
hope this helps🐒have a good day..good life!!😊
kitty
hi..I have a problem.i will emotional fast, every time when I will give any seminar or etc I will get so emotional and I will cry on the stage....what can I do? give me a solution please
Secular Reply
try to think why your on stage and the audience arnt, try to stay positive and maybe meditate before your performance
Raneem
well i personally suggest trying to practice a lot to other people or to yourself be4 stuff like seminars (like rehearsing), but i think you should ask other people too. also like quora is a good place to ask questions and u might get more/better feedback
Aon
i know this is a psychology app, but quora is specifically designed for asking and answering questions (also ask friends/family/etc)
Aon
Coz u scared of society so that ur confidence is very low ...
Arishfa
Take deep breaths it might sound silly but it actually works.. calms your body and mind.don not focus on things like it may go wrong...or what people will think...just prepare and present..💖
kitty
Being emotionl is nt a fault,its gud dat u atleast knw abt it.Accept ur feelings/emotions.Dis time know wht's mking u cry.Is it d topic or ur intrnl feeling abt ur performance?if it's abt prfrmnce jus know dat none s perfect & b confident in ur subjct by practicing it.Remember None can play ur role.
sailaja
i had a problem that;even though i have people around me, I'm feeling lonely
sharath
don't be @sharath
Gaea
is there any online facilities to acquire Internship?
Tanvi Reply
psychology is the study of human behaviour,mental processes and experiences.It id because behaviour cant be stable over a period of time hence,it considered subjective.morover, human experiences cant be objective
Rija Reply
Is this a Statement OR a Question ? all things considered, psch has come a long way in its relatively short life. i was getting an "art" degree, when I enrolled, the Pseudo science changed and I landed a science degree instead (worth more when employers look at it)
Lyric
human behavior is fascinating if you ask me, my 1st degree was criminology/investigations, the ultimate goal of the field is control <~~ sounds terrible but in reality it's more about learning to predict the behaviors we need prevented & find a way to stop them before the next school shooting or btk
Lyric
It's needs to be tackle at young age before it heads to the teens stage then sometimes they don't wanna hear it or un cool
Derek
the suffix ology is study of
Mouze Reply
the prefix psyche is the soul
Mouze
iwillbecomeasuideideaseveryday whatareiwilldo
Vijaya Reply
?
BLYTHE
@Vjaya are you OK?
Ashantelle
u should have hope in life...its not that hard as you think...dont give up even though I don't know what you are talking about just pray..breathe...relax..eveything will be fine 💖
kitty
would you like to talk? I'm an advocate for suicide prevention .
Sonya
that's quite gud
sharath
listen buddy if you keep having those thoughts you will manifest bad energy, i recommend listening to positive subliminals for your subconscious mind, and try being positive, it doesn't have to be real just fake it until you make it
stan
ohhh a Loona here?
here a Orbit too
Vijaya I wish I could Help you-
if you're having suicidal thoughts or anything like that, please contact a suicide hotline b/c i think they could help u more more than we could 1-800-273-8255 there are probs other ones just search it
Aon
how are you feeling tho? im kinda confused by the question and i didnt even know this app had a discussion thing
Aon
please call suicide hotline though if you are having suucidal thoughts because they can really help you (definitely more than some of us could) 1-800-273-8255
Aon
please call suicide hotline though if you are having suucidal thoughts because they can really help you (definitely more than some of us could)
Aon
is anyone there
Robin
@vijaya if ur still reading comments, idrk what u meant but please do stay safe and get help if you're feeling badly
Aon
Hii🙋🏽‍♀️
Angelique

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Source:  OpenStax, Psychology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 03, 2015 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11629/1.5
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