Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Using Deception Ethically: Practical Research Guidelines for Researchers and Reviewers

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Using Deception Ethically: Practical Research Guidelines for Researchers and Reviewers

Article excerpt

This article reviews highlights in the literature on existing recommendations for ethical use of deception in psychological research. We conclude that ethical guidelines and aspirational statements set out by research policies and advisory panels on ethics must eventually be operationalized into concrete terms when introducing deception into a research design. Specific directives for using deception are especially important for new researchers developing projects and also for university/departmental reviewers who are being asked to evaluate the ethical standing of proposed research. We offer a checklist designed to cultivate the understanding of junior researchers and to facilitate the review process by instantiating the relevant general guidelines into a set of Y/N questions about intended research. Finally, the article presents empirical data from researchers and ethics reviewers who provided end-user evaluations of the tool.

Keywords: ethics, deception, teaching, instruments, review

Current ethical guidelines regarding the use of deception in psychological research are outlined in the recent revision of the Tri-Council Policy Statement (TCPS; Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics, 2009) used in Canada, as well as in ethics codes of both the Canadian and American Psychological Associations. These documents, however, do not adequately operationalize deception or differentiate among forms of deception in a way that is as accessible as it could be for concrete implementation and discussion, something that is particularly important for a range of stake holders from student researchers to the members of research ethics review boards. Given that current ethical guidelines fail to provide a mechanism to ensure that, for example, a junior researcher's professional judgement is well informed, this ambiguity is a hindrance to researchers attempting to conduct studies involving deception. Similarly, multidisciplinary reviewers (particularly at the university and departmental level) tasked with evaluating the ethical suitability of a study are left without specific criteria by which to assess the acceptable use of deception. The result is that criteria for acceptable practise sometimes are a moving target: as membership of a review board changes, so too can the interpretation of general guidelines and ethical codes for using deception. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a considerable amount of inconsistency exists among both researchers and review boards regarding what constitutes the ethical use of deception in psychological research. A study by Ceci, Peters, and Plotkin (1985), for example, documented considerable inconsistency even between two review boards located in the same community.

Pittenger (2002) has proposed several recommendations aimed at combating the current systemic limitations regarding the use of deception in psychological research. These include: (a) die establishment of an official mechanism allowing psychologists to exchange information regarding the treatment of ethically sensitive aspects of deception and impairments that require ethical attention immediately; (b) the development of a comprehensive definition of deception, including the differentiation of specific types of deception according to their associated risks; (c) transformation of the current informed consent process, with an aim to increase the protection of participants' right to autonomy in permitting the use of deception in a study of human behaviour; and (d) a widespread requirement for researchers to include details of ethically sensitive practises in their published work. These details should include: a recounting of the ethical rationale for researchers' procedures, the methods used to decrease harm, debriefing procedures, and a record of participants' reactions during debriefing on deceptive practises. Taken together, these recommendations are intended to enhance the systematic education of psychological researchers through the provision of objective information which is subject to evaluation by the community. …

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