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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 is memory
imran Reply
these days.. your own memories can be the very lies you were led to believe
KMAN
so memory.. as it was is becoming irrelevant
KMAN
yeah but memories are whats lets in the end of the day either good or bad
Andreas
memory is the collection of patterns and information/data stored in the mind. im not a psychologist but im well informed. also memories arent exact reflections of what happened like a video you can just upload, its actually a broken down and reconstructed thought that your brain creates to learn and
Rey
develop new connections and information patters that helps it do the task at hand with new advancment so it doesnt learn the same thing again but improves on its ability to survey and complete certain funtions or tasks.
Rey
compilation of all senses used in the past
M.L
yuuuup you are kind of right KMAN KMAN, im not sure if their becoming irrelevent.. memory is still very relevant. and And Andreas Conidaris your comment made no sense, you said yeah but like if you had anything substancial to add about the topic. Personaly i think your comment is wrong, there is no
Rey
good or bad. just our own baised belief on what benifits us or doesnt. like we think our existence is good but yet its dealing negative affects on our surroundings which is bad so where is the good or bad? its an illusion, just like memory, we create the memory we dont actually remember the moment.
Rey
Rey Ordonez with memory we don't remember the exact moment we just remember the last time we remembered that memory
Deyanira
memory is when I retrieve information and use it for me von.
Diferent
Can unconscious cognitive experience easly be realized
Tanam Reply
no it's not possible
Tanzila
yes it's not possible
Sana
ok
ashish
care to go into a little more detail?
Estevan
the way our mind works, people often make decisions without having given them much thought or more precisely, before they have thought about them consciously
Sana
yes but it needs a lot of observation
Parvez
hi Im a psychology student
antonette
not easy but through reflection it can pass through four phases, self-control, self-understanding, self-discovery, self-discovery!
Diferent
hi antonette!in which year?
Diferent
I'm a second year student. from phil
antonette
Im from Phil too! :O, but not psychology lol
dummy
i have one problem. But i do not know. it's what type of problem means mental or physical. may you help me? plz... anybody have here?
sabuj
who is your favorit books?antonette
Diferent
@dummyrabbit where in phil?
antonette
what problem sabuj?
Diferent
@sabujhossain i'll try my best.
antonette
honestly I love to read Readest Digest. it's my grandpa's favorite book also
antonette
I don't know him🤔
Diferent
maybe it can be realized but doesnt a unconscious cognitive once realized become a conscious expirence could someone give an example
jagraj
Aproximetlly 10 years before i am suffering some problems. I am feeling headache, giddiness sometimes I see something in front of my eye. This problem I share with my doctor. And doctor ask me night time what time you go to bed. And sleep enough or not. I say, yes my sleep is enough. Everyday I try.
sabuj
haiiii guyzz
Sherali
Sabuj it seems u need to consult a doctor and should also go for counselling
Anindya
So doctor give me one medicine. Medicine name is flopentixal and melitracin. If I take this medicine I feel OK. But if I stop it I can't control myself. So I take it continuously. 1 months before i stop this medication. So I feel something problem. So how can I stop this medication.
sabuj
Go for counselling. U need to tlk ur heart out
Anindya
This one what type of problem. Plz help me.
sabuj
Sobuj where do u stay?
Anindya
Singapore
sabuj
But Singapore Doctor say your doctor why give this medicine I don't know. But you try to stop it. Better for you. Because this medicine take only mental problem man.
sabuj
Ok. The medication will hlp u to manage urslf better, bt go for counselling. Hope u'll able to get over it. One more thing don't that u r ill or in a critical problem. In life sometimes we get confused, sad, demotivated and that's absolutely ok. Go for counselling it'll be helpful
Anindya
*Don't think that u r...... Srry fr the err
Anindya
Thank you Anindya Shankar
sabuj
Wlcme
Anindya
sabuj make you nervous?
Diferent
hey guuuuuys
antonette
sana leave can be use.ok
Hasibul
what about trance and hypnotic states? or rhythmic behavioral patterns that were not noticed until on realized you could be conscience about those kinds of things?
juan
one°
juan
ok so hii im 13 I am extremely onto psychology. I think I have depression. I googled the symtoms and took quizes and I have moderately severe depression. can someone help me please
jamie Reply
Hi...
Qwert
hey, is there anyone you feel comfortable enough with to talk to? maybe a parent or teacher ? x
Lisa-Marie
I love on having a self time
Qwert
Hey Jamie, it's good that you came here. as Lisa-Marie said, you should talk to a teacher or parent and they will probably refer you to your gp who will decide which steps should be taken next.
Leon
You will probably be offered some form of talking therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy where you will be encouraged to challenge irrational thoughts. It might be difficult for you to talk to a teacher or parent about this but you definitely should.
Leon
Depression is treatable and everyone will try to support you
Leon
very well said Leon .. everyone is here for you, you are not alone .. you've taken the first step now :D we are all here to support you x
Lisa-Marie
Heeey Jamie good on you for being able to express yourself you are after all in a support group one think I can suggest that helped me is positive affirmations motivation speeches on YouTube in the morning it really helped me get out of bed and it helped though a low and stressful childhood
Michael
I've had that experience. What helped me get through my depression, was learning more about my situation. I stop questioning other things and got in touch with my own emotions and where they came from. Other's would call it self examination. The first thing I asked myself was how and why.
Kia
Greetings, Jamie. I am astoundingly happy that you have come out voice your depression! I revere you for doing so. However, I encourage you to see a medical professional, such as a therapist, or other doctor. It is excellent that you have taken the first, intentional step in evaluating yourself.
J.
It is to make sure, truly, that you do have severe clinical depression. And not be mislead by a website, or misinformation. I re-emphaise, good job on being open.
J.
Where did it come from? and how did I get there. I wrote these questions down daily for everything and answered them. You must be open with yourself and not afraid to be honest with yourself. This is how I got through. Self Talk but in ✍. I believe you'll do well.
Kia
it might not easy for you but as for me, I just fine something I like to do and get away with bad stuff and somehow as time pass by, I did not feel depressed anymore, even though I have no one to talk too. I'm 17.
Kamil
something that's helped me when I was depressed was when I woke up. id walk to the mirror and say to myself. Im happy, I'm Healthy, And I'm alive. I still do to this day. I hope that may help you.-15 year old trying to help
Logan
do exercises .. play go out do nothing but go out roam . try talking . watch movies, comedy.
Seeram
hi
ashish
Hi Jamie. Sorry to learn u are facing a hard phase. Your age is vry crucial one. Don't try to diagnose by yourself, try to get hlp frm the elder members of the family. There will be a lot of happenings in ur mind, don't think too much abt them and jst try to focus on the flow.
Anindya
But if u r unable to do ur day-to-day tasks don't hesitate or try to fix tht by urslf, go get hlp. God bless.
Anindya
In your definition, what is Imagination? Picture yourself explaining it to a 6 year old child.
J. Reply
it is a cognitive process used in mental function.
Rushna
Excellent. However, provided a child reads this, will they be able to understand what you wrote on the spot?
J.
Then u may say imaginations are those pictures which u think of when you can think whatever you want to
Anindya
this conversation was very informative
juan
this has actually been helpful, thank you
Leon
haha interesting question! imagination is something abstarkte and there are no limitations within the flare for different happenings. image to children such as animism where the toys the children consider to be alive.
Diferent
when I grow up I'll be prince ..etc
Diferent
Videos nice. Bt needed fr a six yrs old
Anindya
I think to a 6 year old imagination is ur brain creting its own stories and thoughts without stealing other people's
jamie
creating*
jamie
Go Phuck Yourself... Ain't You Hv Any Work...
Qwert
what are the personality disorders
Nigel Reply
go to google!write it.
Diferent
attachments that get a variety of goals done
Jose Reply
some goals have more than one checkpoint
Jose
true
miss
true everything is like root. you need to split your goal to make tree stand straight.
wish
true
ali
yes true
Touch
im on chp emotion and motivition
Jose Reply
hm
ali
that point was deep, motionable.
Jose
what
miss
thoughts can have momentum to them. . . hmm just jotting
Jose
a single goal has many checkpoints, demomstrating reasonable courage through each, with a change in conscious attitude. . . stability goals.
Jose
self encouragement
Jose
motivations(reasons) that help maintain balanced good character
Jose
hi
jamie
who has father of modern psychology?
pravin Reply
I have him and you can get him back for 100 million :)
Himshikha
who was the father of modern psychology?
pravin
Sigmund Freud
vishav
it's true vashav?
pravin
tnx
pravin
The "Father of modern psychiatry". Philippe Pinel's "release from chains" of 1793 and the beginning of the "science of psychiatry"]. 
ali
Freud is the father of modern Psychology that's what my batcholrs and masters in psychology taught me
Pradeep
follow books not Google
Pradeep
not everything is in your books, captian.
juan
What are some good books for a beginner in Criminal Psychology?
Nick
start in forensics
Rick
but you got to start off in psych 1200 it may give you a different direction in which to go. so many branches
Rick
in any case best of luck to you...are you looking for profiling?
Rick
david v canter forensic psychology for dummies!Nick.
Diferent
How dose stress differ from someone with dimincha an without dimincha
Zack Reply
I don't know Zack ,but they say talking to yourself is ok ,but awnsering your self is a bad thing.😂
Zack
what is the pre scientific psychology?
Lusia Reply
psychology that used "introspection" to explore the elemental structure of the human mind. Functionalism. a school ofpsychology that focused on how mental and behavior processes function - how they enable and allow organisms to adapt, survive, and flourish.
ali
was the belief in god and the state of mind, the various religions! The psychological psychology lab was founded in 1879, but as a serious science, brain work began to be successful when anti-depressant characters and antipsychotic drugs were discovered!
Diferent
but angels this is history after being psychological science itself!
Diferent
expert through realistic history
Jose
hi friends......... i have a confusion about the question
shaima Reply
which one friend?
Jose
What is trephination
Monica Reply
skinning of the skull! It was used earlier when science is not advanced! is still rarely used, the reason for filling the brain with oxygen, depression etc
Diferent
how to overcome anxiety
Swapnodeep Reply
how to overcome fear of people
Swapnodeep
exposure and meditation(im not a trained professional lol but it helped me) ask yourself why you are scared
juan
couldn't agree more Juan Roa exposure is the best thing if your scared or nervous to do something you.should do it because it tempary and you'll over come it when you get through the discomfort to a new comfort it's all about stages you grow through in life
Michael
You learn to accept the good and the bad and power through the obstacles to make you stronger.
Kathy
Life is a constant learning curve based on your experiences...
Kathy
and your reactions, good or bad to those experiences.
Kathy
listen to frequency
God
what are the kinds of Psychologists and which one can easy and interesting?
Jaswanth Reply
how to be an active listener?
Pritszel Reply
***en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Active_listening
Anindya
Pls go through
Anindya
make an eye contact and you can nod that you are listening
Matúš
also body language is important
Matúš
not a credible source
Maria
ok thanks..
Pritszel

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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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