Ethics of Psychological Research: New Policies; Continuing Issues; New Concerns

By Adair, John G | Canadian Psychology, February 2001 | Go to article overview

Ethics of Psychological Research: New Policies; Continuing Issues; New Concerns


Adair, John G, Canadian Psychology


Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Lifetime Contributions to Canadian Psychology (2000)

Prix de la Medaille d'Or pour contributions remarquables a la SCP et la psychologie canadienne (2000)

Abstract

The implementation over the past year within Canadian universities of the new Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS) ushers in a new era in the oversight of the ethics of psychological research in Canada. Although these new policies apply to all human research, our interest is how they apply to psychology, primarily to deception, undergraduate subject pools, and other continuing concerns. Why have the granting agencies decided that government regulation of research ethics is necessary and what is the relationship between federal regulations and discipline codes? The history of ct)A's involvement in protecting psychology's interests in the final revisions to the TCPS is recounted. In spite of what has been achieved, many psychologists feel that the TCPS has created new concerns for the discipline. Although there is the potential for startup problems, it is in our collective and individual best interests to make the policy work, thereby ensuring that escalation of government regulation or legislation will not be pursued.

The implementation over the past year within Canadian universities of the new Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans ushers in a new era in the oversight of the ethics of psychological research in Canada. Interactions with human participants and psychological research methods have not substantially altered from what they were previously, nor has psychological research become noticeably more intrusive in recent years. It may be difficult to immediately understand why these new policies are required.

For the past 40 years, deception in social psychological research, required undergraduate student participation in experiments, and confidentiality of research data have been continuing concerns, but presumably addressed by revised and updated discipline codes and by granting agency guidelines. Why have the granting agencies recently decided that increasing regulation of the ethics of research is necessary? What is the relationship between federal regulations and discipline codes and what do the former provide that discipline codes do not? Can we learn from and thereby avoid some of the pitfalls of the U.S. government regulation of the ethics of research? A critical examination of these new developments with special reference to their impact on psychological research is the focus of this article.

Continuing Issues In the late 1960s, the ethics of psychological research became an issue, with the widespread use of deception in social psychological experiments being the major concern. Kelman (1967) alerted the discipline to problems with this practice. In his analysis, he cited examples of particularly troublesome deceptions: Milgram's (1963) study of behavioural obedience, Bergin's (1962) undergraduates who were given discrepant information about the levels of their masculinity or femininity ostensibly based upon psychological test results, and a drug-induced interruption of respiration that subjects described as an horrific experience (Campbell, Sanderson, & Laverty, 1964). In response to these types of experiments, the American Psychological Association (APA) developed a code of ethics (1972) to provide guidance for ethical research. This code was followed shortly by federal regulations governing human research (1974). IMPACT OF ETHICAL REGULATIONS ON RESEARCH PRACTICE Approximately two decades after the studies Kelman had criticzed, I published with several colleagues (Adair, Dushenko, & Lindsay, 1985) empirical assessments of changes to research practices in 1979 and again in 1983 that had resulted from the ethical regulation of research. We focused on deception and debriefing in social psychological research, but were also interested in the frequency of reporting the use of informed consent, freedom to withdraw, debriefing, and other ethical practices. …

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