Ethical principles and professional conduct

See also: Ethical principles in particular outcomes.

The role of the experimenter

The experimenter(s) must adhere to all ethical principles at all times. During research, they should ensure that they, and that their colleagues, follow the guidelines below to achieve ethical research and conduct. Further, they should not bring the psychology profession, scientific research, or others into disrepute.

Ethical principles

Protection and security of participants’ rights

All participants have the right to not be subjected to psychological or physical harm throughout the course of the research. This includes the prevention of injury and illness.

Confidentiality

All participants have the right to privacy. For example, a participant’s involvement, their behaviours or results in a study should not be made public knowledge without informed consent. It is for this reason that experimental research seldom names individual participants.

Voluntary participation

Participants must actively volunteer to be a participant in a study. They should not be forced or pressured, nor should there be negative (direct or indirect) consequences should they choose not to be involved.

Withdrawal rights

Participants are free to participate, withdraw from, decline participation in, or withdraw their results from a study at any time with no negative consequences. Experimenters should inform all participants of this right and the nature of the study before it commences.

Informed consent procedures

At times, informed consent may not be possible in the sense that participants having knowledge of the true purpose of the study would make it void. However, when possible, participants should be informed of the nature of the study, what is being studied, and how the experiment will operate. They should also be informed of any possible side effects.

In the case of participants being under-age or incapable of providing informed consent (for example, children or the intellectually disabled), a parent or guardian must provide informed consent on their behalf.

Use of deception in research

Should deception be absolutely critical and utilised, a full explanation of the true purpose of the study should be provided to all participants as soon as possible.

Debriefing

When the experiment has concluded, a full explanation of the study, its results and findings should be provided to all participants. The experimenters should answer any questions honestly, and further assistance or counseling should be provided if necessary.

Other

Ethical principles may also include:

  • Beneficence: the likely benefits of the research must outweigh the likely negative consequences
  • Justice: all procedures throughout the experiment, including sampling, should be fair and equal with no unnecessary discrimination