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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

Why do I get upset when my girlfriend doesn't tell me she loves me back in front of her friends?
Apollo Reply
Do not depend on her, or don't hope just take care of her ..it doesn't matter that how much she love you..matter that how much you love her..
Kanzul
Because you're insecure, read "The Rational Male" by Rollo Tomassi if you want to make sure that you and your girlfriend are/remain satisfied in your relationship
Leon
and don't listen to Kanzul, don't be a pushover
Leon
may be you are suspicios if she stay around her male friends
Kanzul
Thank you both, yeah umm it makes sense that I'm insecure and yeah I mean I do love her alot the thing is it's not with her Male friends it's in general.
Apollo
But also what is considered a pushover so I can avoid that Leon
Apollo
what is this that a persom constantly saw dream from very early age till now nd saw same dream what is this
Tasneem Reply
Your soul
Candy
how
Tasneem
it is your inner being,it knows, your heart,inner spirit
Candy
dayshavoo
Candy
thank you
Tasneem
😊
Tasneem
samething keeps happening,repeat
Candy
why do I have dreams of my boyfriend boss
Nicole Reply
Because you love him and his memories. Or that you are reminded of him very often.
Jobin
There are some explanation why we have dream. It can be just your brain picking random memory in your brain when you sleep (eventhough we sleep our brain still working) and this random memory your brain pick out become your dream
Kelly
👍
Jobin
or this boss left an impression in you, but it doesn't necessarily mean you have a romantic feelings towards this person. Maybe this boss just do some random thing and it left an impression in your memory and you still think about it subconsciously when you sleep and it manifested itself in ur dream
Kelly
That is perfectly normal and no cause for worry. You might not want to tell your boyfriend though ;)
Leon
What do you think is the reason for your friends or the family members coming into the dreams especially wet dreams? And after that what's the feeling of the person?
Jobin
how to get rid of fearful avoidant issues
Alexsus Reply
Do you think that seminary student needs psychological studies?
Jobin Reply
I think it's best for high schoolers.. we all should be aware of what we are
Alexsus
Yes definitely, especially in an age like this were more and more I've observed students not knowing what they truly are and not knowing how to deal with psychological issues. Plus, it gives them the advantage of knowing how to deal with other people with different ideas and issues.
Tav
Absolutely. How would you be able to make any serious decisions in your life, when you are a mess and don't understand your feelings, motivation and reasoning behind this or that issue. Moreover, I think whether you are a seminary student or not, you should also be taught critical thinking skills.
Sofia
Thank you all
Jobin
whats is schizophrenia
mobile Reply
long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation.
Amber
What is burn out syndrome?
Jobin
Emotional and physical exhaustion which appears after a long period of stress.
Avram
what is social conflict
deen Reply
a conversation with someone & having conflict with .
Candy
Soory Guys hope you ar doing well Im in strong desire to get this kind of book INTRODUCTORY PSYCHOLOGY but ther cost is too and I'm not able to buy it If you see this announcement please I need soft copy even few please
jacobo
Anybody who is able to access this book just help even soft copy to saves me Im so soory
jacobo
Deen social conflict means misunderstand occurred among the people in a certain social context can be caused by poor governance
jacobo
what is top-notch?
Vi Reply
excellent? the best?
Travis
the very best.
Snuffles
best of something. above the expectation
Jem
something like expert level
Evil
zenith
Syed
Hi! what is introspection?
jacobo
the ultimate best.. of excellent quality
Melissa
honor and respect
Randall
Understanding
Candy
Hi! This book INTRODUCTORY PSYCHOLOGY I'm not able to buy anybody can help me even soft copy
jacobo
i want some pdf books who can help me
Google "libgen", you can download almost any book there. I can't send the link as links are blocked by the app
Leon
is there any website where I can get a true diagnosis of a personality disorder I think I may possess? I can't seek therapy due to insurance complications
Bailey Reply
Well most websites that offer actual medical diagnoses cost money or they will connect you to a doctor for some sort of meeting.
Elise
yeah I've been looking for a decent site for around a year now and that's all Ive found thank you
Bailey
Yeah it is quite hard to find a reliable site.
Elise
diagnosis couldn't get from a websites. you have to refer a doctors for a consultation.
Muhamad
please which site can I download child psychology textbook?
patience
Compare and contrast situational influences and dispositional influences and give an example of each. Explain how situational influences and dispositional influences might explain inappropriate behavior.
Babafemi Reply
please tell me about ethical consideration and research method
Its Reply
what is an ethical consideration that is what a search for my research is seeking out the truth what lies in the darkness and it's hidden by the light
Rev
Ethical consideration includes the risk of doing your research
Mary
***cirt.gcu.edu/research/developmentresources/tutorials/ethics
Amanda
as well as the research can not have lasting affects on the subjects.
Amanda
Is this live
Little
We as researchers should not harm the subjects of our research, be it the population under study or the selected sample. I think ethical consideration requires that we disclose as much as is practically possible about the requirements of the research to all concerned.
Abel
It is ethically sound also to to acknowledge others' findings wherever we reference them in our research because we are to build and grow the body of knowledge by building on the research others have done. This is my contribution.
Abel
What is CBT?
ANTONIO Reply
cognitive behavioral therapy
Joni
When they use this CBT?
zahir
what is cbt
Timothy
mostly used to help treat anxiety and depression related diagnosis. But it's used in other types of mental health issues.
Joni
cognitive behavioral therapy. As stated earlier in this discussion.
Joni
Thank yoi
zahir
Hello! Does anyone have access of these books or articles. (E.Fuller Torrey-Freudian Freud:The malignant effect of freud's theory on American Thought and culture) (Richard Webster-Why Freud was wrong:sin,science and psychoanalysis)?
Amina Reply
which of the following is show weak relationship between two variable a/0.27 b/0.80 c/-0.80 d/0.00
Nahom Reply
is 0.00 show the relationship between two variable weak
Nahom
why not -0.80 ?
Rabia
because -0.80 shows strong negative correlation between the variables
Simran
a/0.27 is correct option d/0.00 means there is no relationship.
King
hlo guys
Ishant
... 👋
what is this about? and what do the numbers mean?
Skylar
Some statistic calculations for relationship maybe
Yoselin
0.00 means there.s no relationship 0.00-0.30 shows a weak relationship 0.30-0.60 represents a moderate relationship from 0.60 to 1 it is a strong relationships. whether the sign is + or - does not influence what I just said. sooo which one shows a weak relationship? A/0.27
Alexandra
psychology is the science of brain and behaviour and mind
Rabia Reply
yes
AB

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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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