Research in psychology is guided by ethical principles that are established to ensure the safety and well-being of research participants. An overriding expectation is that the risk of harm to participants not exceed the potential benefit of research. Yet another expectation is that a researcher be competent to act and follow accepted practice in conducting and reporting research. This includes the accurate and complete reporting of data that is pertinent to the study.
This page is intended to help solidify the following enduring understandings:
The principle of informed consent is vital to research in psychology. Per the APA, informed consent involves informing participants about:
Informed consent is not required in certain circumstances such as where there is no foreseeable risk to participants (such as anonymous questionnaires/use of large data sets), certain naturalistic observations that do not place participants at risk, and in some educational settings. See the APA Ethical Principles for more detail/explanation.
CASE STUDY: THE U.S. PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE SYPHILIS STUDY AT TUSKEEGEE
privacy and confidentiality
Researchers are tasked with protecting and maintaining protections as to the identities of participants and associations with the data they collect. That data must continue to be protected by the researcher even after the conclusion of a study.
For instance: Dr. Garcia does a longitudinal study in which he follows a group of three close friends (who he calls Andy, Ben, and Carlos) throughout their high school years. His data collection includes administering a series of surveys, inventories, and engaging in regular interviews with the friends individually and in groups. Dr. Garcia has promised the participants confidentiality and takes great care to use pseudonyms to mask the participant's real names, locations, and other characteristics that might be associated with the individuals.
Three years after the completion of the study, Andy suggests to Dr. Garcia that they do an interview together about the study for a local PBS station. Dr. Garcia declines, as he knows that even though Andy would voluntarily reveal his own identity, Dr. Garcia's participation would make it easier to identify Ben and Carlos, and thus put their privacy at risk.
CASE STUDY: Taus v. Loftus
CURRENT ISSUES IN RESEARCH ETHICS - PRIVACY AND CONFIDENTIALITY MODULE (Columbia University)