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Many people have a vague fear of psychological studies.

Will the researchers lie to me? Will I get electric shocks? This lesson covers the ethical considerations of all modern psychological studies, including the rights of the participant such as informed consent and accurate debriefing.

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You need some extra money, so you volunteer for a research study in exchange for $20. You arrive at the lab, and they hook you up to a machine without telling you what’s about to happen. You then look at pictures on a screen, and occasionally you feel random, painful electric shocks.

How realistic is this scenario? Are psychologists allowed to do this kind of thing to people?This lesson covers the ethical rules and considerations of all modern psychological studies. After viewing this lesson, you’ll know that the scenario described before should never happen. We’ll break the lesson down into ideas that are important before the study begins, during the study and after the study. All of the rules for ethical procedures in psychology studies have been created by a large national organization called the American Psychological Association. These rules are applicable to research in any area of psychology, including educational psychology.

Before the Study

Let’s start by talking about what has to happen before a study can begin. The first thing that needs to happen is that the researcher must write up a proposal for exactly what he or she wants to do. This proposal must be very detailed, and it must include how participants will be recruited, any benefits they’ll receive (such as payment), and exactly what will happen to them. The proposal must also detail whether any possible negative consequences will occur.

The proposal must then be reviewed by a committee of people called an Internal Review Board, or IRB for short. The IRB committee is a group of educated people who consider the ethics involved in any study involving human participants. Everyone on the IRB must agree that the procedure will not cause any long-term harm to the participants before it is approved.Once the IRB has approved a study, the researcher is allowed to recruit participants. The first thing that must happen once you volunteer for a study is that you are given an informed consent form. An informed consent form is a piece of paper that explains to you, in detail, everything that will happen in the study.

It includes how long it will take, whether you’ll get paid, what exactly will happen to you, and the purpose of the study. You will be asked to sign the consent form, which indicates that you have read and understood everything that’s about to happen. For example, if you will be given electric shocks, you must be told that in advance, so that it’s not a surprise. If the desired participants are not able to give legal consent, such as children who are participating in a study for educational psychology, then a parent or guardian will need to sign the consent form instead.

During the Study

Now that you’ve agreed to participate, the study will begin. A common concern about psychology studies is that the researchers might not be honest with you about the purpose of the study or what will really happen to you.

If this does happen, it’s called deception. In other words, deception is when you are not told the true purpose or procedure of the study in advance. Is deception allowed by the IRB committee? The answer is yes, but only if the deception is absolutely necessary for the study to be done properly.

Let’s go over an example of when this might be true.Imagine you volunteer for a study that’s supposed to be about making friends. You go into a room where there are five other people you think are also volunteer participants. You are then given ten minutes to interact with the other participants and decide with whom you’d like to be friends. You thought that everyone else there was just like you, a simple volunteer for the study. However, maybe the other people there are actually actors, hired by the experimenter, to act in certain ways to see how you will respond.

Or maybe the actors are all of different ethnicities, and the true purpose of the study is to see whether you are friendlier to people of some ethnicities compared to people of different ethnicities. In either case, if the experimenter had told you about the true purpose of this study, your behavior and decisions might have been different. The researcher couldn’t have tested your true, natural behaviors if you had known the actual idea behind this study. So in this case, deception was necessary.The other rule for what happens during any psychology study is that any participant has the right to leave, or quit the study, at any time without punishment.

In this way, the volunteers are truly there because they want to be, not because they feel they have to be.

After the Study

After the study has been completed, the first thing that must be done is called debriefing. Debriefing is when the researchers explain any additional details about the study you might want to know afterward.

For example, if there were two different groups in the study, such as one group who got a caffeinated drink and another group who got the same drink without caffeine, they might tell you which group you were in. They wouldn’t want to tell you this in advance because it might have affected your behavior. Another aspect of debriefing is that if the study did use any deception, the researchers are required to tell you about it before you leave the study.

That way, when you are done, you can be sure that you truly understand anything that happened to you during the study.After the study is done and you have left, the researchers are also required to keep any of your personal information, or even how you responded during the study, completely confidential and anonymous. They can publish what you did or talk about it at a conference, but they are not allowed to reveal your name or any identifying information. That way, you can be completely safe. Finally, the researchers are also required to provide you with contact information for the IRB committee or a supervisor.

That way, if you do have any questions or complaints after you leave, you will have a way to get in touch with someone.

Lesson Summary

Every psychology study must be approved by an Internal Review Board, which decides if the study is ethical. Before you participate, you must go through informed consent, so you know what will happen to you.

Deception, or not being honest about the true nature of the study, is only allowed if it’s necessary for the successful completion of the study. After the study is done, the researchers are required to take you through debriefing, where you learn all the details about what happened. Now that you know the rules for ethical standards in psychology studies, you might be more likely to volunteer for one!

Lesson Objectives

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Discuss the ideas associated with what occurs before, during, and after a psychological study
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the ethical standards in psychology studies in case you want to participate in one

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