Ethics of Psychological Research

Ethics of Psychological Research


What do we mean by ethics? Ethics simply means a set of predetermined rules, moral principles or values that guide us to be mindful of our actions and aware of consequences. It’s about making boundaries and fostering a sense of right and wrong. Now we need to specify what ethics means in a psychological context. 

It means that while any research is being conducted, psychologists need to be aware of and abide by these norms i.e. to take care of the well-being of the subject (human or animal), ensuring informed consent of the participant in case of human-based research, experimenting responsibly and in ethical ways, respecting the confidentiality, dignity and autonomy of participants and avoid harm. Ethics are meant to assure that the research is being carried forward taking care of integrity and that potential benefits outweigh the possible risks.

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Historical Background 

Over time, there have been several historical breaches in the conduct of psychological research and those incidents acted as reminders to focus on the ethical guidelines and the need to elevate the conduction and evaluation procedure in psychological research 

One of the known studies – Milgram’s obedience study, which many of you must have read, raised intense questions concerning the ethics, of the way participants were treated and the extent to which obedience to superiors was seen. It concerned the authorities and they focused on making significant changes in the conduction process and emphasised having informed consent from participants for the integrity and safety concerns. Another case called the Tuskegee syphilis study that continued for several decades, revolved around withholding the treatment of syphilis. This too emphasised the necessity of informed consent, beneficence and respect for the participant/subject.

Read More: The Stanford Prison Experiment

Ethical Dilemmas 

When we talk about psychological research that is done to progressively understand and enhance the dynamics of human behaviour, it becomes very important that we abide by the rules to ethically conduct such practices. There have been a few ethical Dilemmas commonly faced by researchers like 

Informed Consent

Psychology, as a discipline that works with and revolves around the human mind, holds the responsibility to ensure that any study conducted on the human mind is carried forward only when the person fully understands the purpose, risks, and entire actual process of conduction before agreeing to participate. Balancing the need to have informed consent along with its possible impact on the validity of the research is challenging.

Privacy and Confidentiality

It becomes a responsibility and a matter of concern to protect the privacy and Confidentiality of the individual participating in the study. Researchers are held answerable to safeguard participants’ personal information and assure them that their identities will remain confidential and balancing this need can be a daunting and delicate task. 

Potential harm

Before conducting the research, the researcher should take into consideration the potential physical and psychological harms, that the individual might be subjected to during the study and they must minimize those risks as much as possible and avail them of the appropriate support after the conduction of the experiment. It might be difficult when working on sensitive topics or vulnerable populations. 


Sometimes, for the sake of maintaining integrity, researchers use deception in their studies and it raises loads of ethical questions as participants have the right to be fully informed about the study before conduction. For the sake of valid results, the implications of deception can actually as a dilemma. 

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Future directions in ethical research 

There have been many future directions in the research field, and one of these is the continued development and implementation of norms, guidelines, and ethical standards. Researchers are consistently refining existing ethical frameworks and creating new ones to address emerging challenges, such as the ethical implications of artificial intelligence.

Another essential direction is to promote transparency and openness in research, it revolves around open data sharing, pre-registration of studies and even publishing the null results. Such efforts will reduce publication bias. Further, there have been directions on big data and data privacy. Researchers have been looking for ways to ensure the responsible use of data, protection of privacy rights, having an informed consent with regard to data-driven research.

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Promoting Global Cooperation in Ethical Research practices 

To ensure the well-being of participants worldwide, this will be a great step towards the advancement of this field. 

  • International collaboration: Promoting collaboration can help promote the exchange of ideas, perspectives and best practices among researchers from all over the world. We can aim this via joint research projects, conferences, workshops and training programs.
  • Cross-cultural sensitivity: Identifying and acknowledging cultural differences is an important and healthy practice in ethical research. The researchers must understand and imbibe the values, guidelines and other ethical considerations of such a diverse population while designing and conducting research. It involves, welcoming local communities, and local researchers and taking their input. 
  • Sharing Knowledge And Resources: Supported sharing of ethical guidelines and resources across globally known institutions helps promote consistent ethical practices. Online platforms and publications play a great role in this. 
  • Ethical review and oversight: Promoting worldwide institutions to develop and strengthen their ethical review boards and adhering to international ethical guidelines may help in fostering a global culture of ethical research. 
  • Education and training: Promising education and training on ethical research practices to students, and researchers globally can be a great practice. It involves workshops, online courses and other supplementary resources that focus on the importance of ethical considerations, giving guidance on decision-making that is ethically sound. 

Ethics are mandatory to keep a balance while we are progressively moving in this delicate field of research where we are subjecting human minds to various stimulus for the sake of study. It becomes our responsibility to inform them and take their consent before predisposing them to the research conduction, maintain confidentiality, reduce the degree of harm and ensure voluntary participation. In this evolving field it is necessary to stay vigilant in keeping up with the ethical standards.

Reference +
  • By, Mcleod, S., on, U., & 7, D. (2023, December 7). Ethical considerations in psychology research. Simply Psychology.
  • (PDF) on the ethics of psychological research. (n.d.-h).
  • American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. American Psychological Association.

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