How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Ethics in research
There are a lot of ethical considerations required in modern social research. This is a far cry from the days when cruelty or privacy were of primary concern to experimenters.
A basic principle of research is that people should not be coerced into participation, particularly when they might object to being a 'guinea pig'.
This includes doing covert tests on people in the street who may otherwise never know they were participating. This can cause a dilemma for experiments that depend on people acting naturally in natural settings.
The principle of conformed consent is that people should know what they are getting into. This includes time that is required and the effort on their part.
A dilemma occurs here when telling the person about the experiment spoils the test as informed people will act differently from uninformed people.
When there is risk of harm or even mild discomfort, the question of volunteering and informed consent becomes even more important.
Whilst direct physical harm is uncommon, psychological experiments can easily create stress or otherwise act upon a person who is in a distressed state.
The obvious dilemma here is that any experiment that causes or acts around harm may not be possible under such considerations. Any harm done to a person during an experiment could also lead to litigation against the experimenter.
Information about a person gleaned during a psychological test could be used against them in some way. It is thus important to assure the person that personal information will not be released.
Data protection legislation may also be a consideration here.
A problem here, beyond the question of whether the person will allow data on them to be captured, is around the ability of the experimenter to keep data in an adequately secure system.
Different from confidentiality is the question of the person remaining anonymous even within the experiment. This is possible by the use of screens and via remote methods such as over the internet.
This gives the person an even greater ability to sustain privacy, but is not possible in all experiments.
A relatively rare consideration is where a control group who do not receive some treatment may be disadvantaged by this and where the right to service is in question. This is a particular question in medical trials and can become important where therapeutic methods are being explored.
There can be a cost to ethics in research, particularly in terms of the time that it can take. Asking permission from people and getting their consent takes a certain amount of time. If people refuse then more time must be spent on recruiting other participants. There may also be a need to get approvals from committees and managers. Other regulatory activities may be needed.