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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

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SERAJ Reply
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Ananya
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Shilan
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usef
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Gil
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Shilan
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Shilan
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Daniella
waasup
Isaiah
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Sara
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androi
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Shilan
im ok you
Daniella
Me to
Shilan
Thanks
Shilan
What's going?
Shilan
working
Daniella
how did psychology begin?
Valerie Reply
of psychologys commencement, the traces can be seen in the work of Aristotle, where he talk about soul and body, likewise work in durrant, de anima, all these were somewhere supporting dualism, in which soul could exist separately from body
amaan
but if you talk about the moder psychology, Gustav fechner, is credited with performing scientific experiments, basis of his experiments in psychology with his studies perception.
amaan
does psychology deal with love?
Mohammed Reply
Maybe, i think
edem
I definitely would say yes
Clara
how so
Isaiah
*triarchic
Meredith
there are so many different reasons why you can fall in love with someone, many of them develope subconsciously -> psychology
Clara
love messes with the brain, a lot, ergo I believe that Psychology does indeed deal with love
what is synapse
Katie Reply
In the central nervous system, a synapse is a small gap at the end of a neuron that allows a signal to pass from one neuron to the next. synapse are found where nerve cells connect with other nerve cells
Najeem
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Mariah Reply
WHT u mean?
usef
yes
MD
heyy, may i join the conversation please?
edem Reply
who is the father of psychology
Richy Reply
aristatil
Ramadevi
and please, how would you guys, describe the study of psychology at college ?
edem
psychologist student?
Aspen
i mean not yet but am about to start college so wanna know how is it(college in general and psychology course) please
edem
Psychology is the study of mind and behaviour. So if you will take psychology as a subject so you will get to know how your everything (physical, mental, social, spiritual aspects) effects your behaviour
sakina
With this brief knowledge you can help people to cope up with their problems and only you can guide them correctly
sakina
And if you go for further specialisations you can study hypnosis, face reading, body language etc
sakina
Thanks a lot🙏🏾 And ik some of the stuffs u said but i am also going to write thesis, right ?
edem
ok no prob, thanks a lot🙏🏾✨
edem
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Khan
hae everyone, hope you are well this evning my question is what is the difference between drive and motivation
Michael
good question
Rainee
drive is more like an impulse or urge and i think they both go together (drive and motivation) even if there is a slight difference
edem
@ Michael Drive is delivered to be innate without the use of an external stimuli, motivation normally evolves an outside stimuli which may include praise, appreciate, or reward.
Reginald
*believed...sorry for typo
Reginald
@Reginald, can't the motivation come from the inner self?
edem
Good question, please give an example.
Reginald
can we say desire of success for example
edem
Wilhelm Wundt is the father of psychology
ipau
Wilhem Wundt thank you for the road that you opened.
Qwanta
You mean who is the father of having a great educated argumentative guess? nothing is more wrong than this question. The question is you should ask yourselfs is, how sure are you abour their scientific studying? one's percieved assimilated approach to judging another person and saying they are
Roger
the biggest problem with scientific research and data is that ya you could get the same result 1000 times then it could go the other way 1000 times, but we would never know that and we did, we would still say ya but the proof is there. The only thing science proves is that humanity has
Roger
no facts about human behavior in the scientific context, but more in the trial and error.. sorry to tell you, but so far no one has proven Father of anything, thats up to you and i, judgement is bias, science is good enough lazy
Roger
cognitive development is the growing and development of the brain.
Jessy Reply
Anyone knows about Techno-fascism?
Hussein Reply
Ecofascism is a theoretical political model in which an authoritarian government would require individuals to sacrifice their own interests to the "organic whole of nature". The term is also used as a rhetorical pejorative to undermine the environmental movement.
ipau
what's the big difference between prejudice and discrimination?
Danice Reply
A prejudiced person may not act on their attitude.  Therefore, someone can be prejudiced towards a certain group but not discriminate against them.  Also, prejudice includes all three components of an attitude (affective, behavioral and cognitive), whereas discrimination just involves behavior
Nancy Lee
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basher
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Rahul
what is all about cognitive development?
Kamohelo
cognitive development is the growing and development of the brain
Jessy
how do you control a variable when using spss whilst running a pearsons correlation analysis?
Jessie Reply
it dependa on your study. according to what you want to say and explain your result
Pouran
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Jayla Reply
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brivia Reply
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Rajendra
what is psychology
Chethani Reply
the study of insecurities and the effect on the host .
Sera
Psychology is the scientific study of behavior & mental processes
Angela
psychology is science about learning human behaviour
Zhamshid
behaviorosm
Khan
In thinking about the case of Candace described earlier, do you think that Candace benefitted or suffered as a result of consistently being passed on to the next grade?
Nene Reply

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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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