How Should We do This?
Scientists are curious and love to find out if their hypotheses are correct through experiments. Although the information they are seeking is valuable, it is the psychologists duty to make sure that any experimentation they do, is ethical. Often times researchers experiment with participants to come to a conclusion to their hypotheses. It is the duty of the researcher to respect the participants who they are experimenting on.
There are no clear cut right and wrong answers to what is ethical, so the APA (American Psychological Association) came out with a list of guidelines used to help psychologists determine if what they are doing is moral. The guidelines can be broken down into six parts. Before you start anything, you need informed consent with the patient or experimentee. According to the APA, “Informed Consent means that the psychologists inform participants about the purpose of the research, expected duration and procedures. Next, their right to decline to participate and to withdraw from the research once participation has begun. They provide opportunity for the prospective participants to ask questions and receive answers” (Kim APA). Next is deception in research. Psychologists are not supposed to use deception in their studies unless it is justified by giving a different scientific perspective. Also if the research is going to cause more emotional or physical pain then expected, the psychologists must not deceive their patients by informing them completely what is at hand. The patients cannot be coerced into the experiment. If it’s voluntary, it should be known its voluntary and not coerced because that could affect the data. Another guideline is anonymity, this is important because this protects the patient. If the study is trying to find out some sensitive information that could potentially be embarrassing if found out, it is important that the researcher keeps the patient anonymous. Risk vs. benefits are something taken seriously by the APA. They hire people to make sure that rights of the participants are protected. They are with the Institutional review board (IRB), according to Ivor Pritchard, ;IRBs are, essentially, a way of institutionalizing reflection about how it is people carry out the practice of psychological research.; They do this out of safety to try to figure out all the risks and potential risks that could happen and minimize them. Lastly is debriefing, once the experiment is concluded, the researcher and the participant should be able to discuss the different parts of the experiment and the findings. These guidelines help both the researchers and the participants. It minimizes confusion and false data.
One famous experiment is the Milgram experiment that happened in 1963. This experiment is a clear example of an unethical study of obedience. It was performed by a Yale professor named Stanley Milgram who wanted to focus on obedience to authority versus personal conscience. He was interested in this subject because after World War II, all the top German officers were put on trial, they plead obedience to their leader as to why they committed the terrible crimes they did. His hypothesis was, “Germans have a basic character flaw that makes them ready to obey authority, regardless of what is asked of them” (Khalulyan, A. (2018)). He recruited people to come into his lab and paired the participant with another person. Both drew cards and one would be the learner and the other would be the teacher. The catch is that the cards were fixed so that the participant was always the teacher and the learner was actually one of Milgram’s researchers. According to Saul McLeod, “The learner would be put into a room and had electrodes attached to his arms, and the teacher and researcher went into a room next door that contained an electric shock generator and a row of switches marked from 15 volts (Slight Shock) to 375 volts (Danger: Severe Shock) to 450 volts (XXX).” The teacher would then ask a series of questions on memory, and if the learner got it wrong, he would get a shock. And each time it went up until it was “fatal.” As the voltage was going up, the teacher would be instructed to keep going no matter what. On the other side the learner, who was also in on the experiment, would yell or pretend to be hurt by the “shocks” when he/she would purposefully answer the questions incorrectly. Even after the learner wouldn’t respond, the teacher was instructed to continue to shock. “The results were around 2/3rd of the participants continued to 450 v and 100% of the participants went to 300 v. Milgram’s Experiment showed that Social situations are a powerful determinant of behavior; we are socialized early on to recognize authority and obey those in positions of power” (Khalulyan, A. (2018)).
Milgram’s Experiment would not pass the APA guidelines for Ethical Research with Human Subjects. The test subjects were not properly debriefed. They were coerced and deceived into their “teacher” position even though they volunteered for the experiment, they never had a fair chance to be a learner. Also the psychological trauma from thinking you actually hurt someone on the other end, and kept doing it even though you knew it was wrong, was not accounted for by the researchers and would not pass by the APA standards. The experiment in itself had good intentions. It was a way to try to figure out how humans can blindly follow orders even though they know what is wrong and right. Although it was not the most ethical, I believe it gave us some real insight as to what humans are willing to do if they have someone in power to tell them to do it.
I can not think of a more ethical way to determine and measure how someone would blindly follow authority. For example you could have the same idea of a teacher and learner but for the punishment have them not be so harsh but personally I do not think it would have the same effect. Milgram was trying to figure out how one of the worst astrocytes were carried out by boys my age. They followed orders to inflict death and pain and we wanted to know if it was only the Germans who were capable of doing this. If the teacher is not doing the same or thinks he/she is inflicting pain, then it’s not the same powerful feeling. If you were to have to throw a snowball at the learner if they were wrong, I do not think that there would be any remorse or wanting to stop because the punishment isn’t harsh enough. Milgram needed to see how others dealt with knowingly dealing pain. Anything less in my opinion, even if its unethical, would not have measured as accurately the extent that regular people are willing to blindly follow authority to inflict pain.
Overall ethics are very important in researching and experimenting. It’s important to have the best data while still keeping both parties safe. The APA gives guidelines to help researchers to make sure they are ethical and professional.
Khalulyan, A. (2018). Chapter 2 scientific methods in psychology, part 2 PowerPoint slides. Retrieved from HYPERLINK ;https://palomar.instructure.com/courses/12639/files/folder/Lectures/Week%202?preview=915830; https://palomar.instructure.com/courses/12639/files/folder/Lectures/Week%202?preview=915830
Mills, Kim. “APA Ethics Code Addresses When Obtaining Informed Consent From Research Participants Is Necessary.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/06/informed-consent.aspx.
Mcleod, Saul. “The Milgram Experiment.” Simply Psychology, Simply Psychology, 5 Feb. 2017, www.simplypsychology.org/milgram.html.
MUNSEY, CHRISTOPHER. American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/gradpsych/2007/09/cover-balancing.aspx.