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Relevance And Adherence To Ethical Guidelines In Psychology


Task: Write an essay describing the relevance to the various ethical guidelines in psychology.


The culmination of 20th century highlighted the importance of ethical issues in psychology and laid the foundation of the topic as an essential part of contemporary psychology. Studying psychology is not only a significant part of a curriculum but ethical issues in psychology hail importance when it comes to conducting and verifying research done on psychological lines. In the ethical issues in psychology essay, we will understand how ethical implications are becoming a base for the rejection of past studies and theories. The rejection has led many to raise questions and ask about the reason behind it. It is believed that the Nuremberg Code was the primary reason behind the rejection of many psychological research studies (ethical issues in psychology essay, 2020). As per the Code, in order to conduct an investigation, the consent of the party who is being studied must be taken, but this was not done in the past studies. The adoption of ethical practices brought changes in one’s values which led them to reject studies conducted on unethical lines.

ethical issues in psychology essay

Ethics in a layman’s language refers to right conduct to be followed while conducting research. It is the duty of the psychologists to respect the dignity and rights of the participants irrespective of how emergent the research issues are (Bersoff, 2012).

The paper, ethical issues in psychology essay, will demonstrate how ethical issues since the past century have paved the way for changes in social and cultural values. The essay will examine the past century, the changes found in socio-cultural values, highlight the unethical process adopted in certain researches and how it has impacted the study done today. The essay will also highlight the ethical dilemmas being faced by many psychologists while conducting research.

Ethics and ethical practices can be found in all the activities being done by humans. Researchers are following the principles of ethics while conducting their research which was not usually done in the past. There were studies being conducted on some patients without taking their consent and without considering the fact that the study may endanger the well-being of the patients. Although there were some guidelines regarding ethical principles during the early 20th century scientists in Germany during the Nazi phase disregarded the principles (Anderson and Kitchener, 2010). As per the findings of these ethical issues in psychology essay, they continued to do research as which was in contravention of one’s human rights. Some of the scientists, who continued to conduct research on unethical grounds during World War II, were put under trial and considered guilty at Nuremberg in Germany. The judgment of the trial led to the making of Nuremberg Code which is regarded as the beginning of modern research ethics. The Code lay down that it is necessary for a researcher to gain a valid consent of a person who is considered as a subject matter behind the research (Koocher and Keith-Spiegel, 1985).

The recognition is given to ethical principles did not start with the Nuremberg Code; instead, there were certain instances before it, which led to the discussion about adhering to ethical standards during a research process. In the 1960s the youth advocated about peace and love on seeing encroachment on civil liberties in the form of application of some strict legislations. It led to certain debates about the ethical implications of the legislation. People started to recognize the importance of their personal rights and respect the rights of others. The influence of African and American protests could be seen during the 1960s, where every minority group in America started to ask for being treated equally. The American residents, homosexuals, migrants and other feminists realized that they should have equal rights in employment, housing and other areas. During writing the ethical issues in psychology essay, it was found that in 1970' and '80s people started to realize the importance of social responsibility which is helping others who look for some kind of help (Matsumoto and Jones, n.d.). Humanistic school of thought came into existence in the same period of time, and they advocated that human beings should not be treated as a subject for any research work. Their individuality and autonomy should be respected rather than them being treated as mere subject matters. The change in thinking process also led to the recognition of the theory of ethics.

ethical issues in psychology essay

The study of psychology also helped in developing knowledge about ethical interest. The Nuremberg Code established the principle of ethics wherein the consent of the subject matter if it was a living person was necessary without putting him/her under pressure, but still, there were instances which went against the principles. There were instances wherein the subjects were manipulated to such an extent that they almost forgot who they were and what was happening with them. The practice brought to the light that the researchers were not at all concerned about the participants, and there was a lack of respect. It can be said in this ethical issues in psychology essay that it was an unfortunate demonstration of the character of the researchers, which was revealed in some of the studies done in that period.

The library study was done by Felipe and Sommer in 1966, clearly demonstrates the treatment of participants. During this study, the authors went to a library and invaded the personal space of the users. They sat a close distance in order to study the behaviour of the users, which were the subject of the research. The users did not know that they were being considered for a study (Acklin, 2018). The researchers were noting down their time spend in the library before they made a move to pack their bags and leave. Although the researchers did not harm the users, the latter did not feel comfortable in their presence and remained irritated. The researchers did not consider that the users have the right to study their papers peacefully and thought themselves as superiors who can disturb them without considering their personal rights. As per the ethical issues in psychology essay, the study is a clear indication and proof of irresponsible behaviour of the researchers, and it demonstrates lack of respect for participants which was a regular thing during early studies.

In the early studies, deception was also used as a tool while conducting research on psychological topics which has lost its application in recent times. Deception can be seen to be used in the majority of psychological investigations, and it was an accepted phenomenon then which was not considered as unethical. There are many examples of researches where deception was used, and the same will be dealt with in the ethical issues in psychology essay. There was research run by Jones and Sigall in the year 1971, wherein they applied a technique, bogus pipeline to measure the attitudes of the participants. The participants who were being studied believed that a pipeline could measure their attitudes and opinions. The belief made the participants speak the truth about themselves and their opinion as they feared the apparatus (Koocher and Kinscherff, 2016). However, the technique did not have a damaging effect on the participants, but it clearly shows the deception in which they were put. It is a clear example of the ill-treatment of participants in psychological research.

ethical issues in psychology essay

As per the ethical issues in psychology essay, the above-provided examples are not limited to specific instances; instead, there are more such examples of psychological research which shows the seriousness of the issue.

Milgram’s study conducted in 1974 is considered as one of the dramatized studies conducted at that time. He conducted research on obedience to authority. In the study, the participants were informed that they would be given a scenario of teacher and learner. They were told that the roles of the participants were not pre-planned. In this research, the learners were asked to perform a task, and if in case they commit a mistake, then the teacher would punish them by giving an electric shock. As per the ethical issues in psychology essay, in reality, there was no such scenario of exerting an actual shock on the learner. But the way the scenario was built, the learners believed that they were being given a shock every time they committed a mistake. It shows the amount of psychological stress the learners were put under. When the study was put under scrutiny, then Milgram defended his part and said that all the participants had received a detailed report about the experiment after it was completed (Jenkin and Winter, 2020). The report detailed the process and the result. There was a questionnaire as well, which formed a part of the brief provided to the participants. The answers of the participants showed that most of them liked and enjoyed the participation in the experiment. Due to the majority of participants enjoying the procedure, it helped the researcher to justify his act and the procedure applied by him. As per Hayes (2002), the outcome of the experiment could not be predicted, although the process went smoothly. It is not an acceptable practice to take risks in an investigation by putting the well-being of a person at stake (Campbell, 2016).

Providing brief as discussed in the previous paragraph of the ethical issues in psychology essay, is an essential aspect of all studies. Similarly, providing a debriefing is also an important rule to be considered in psychological investigations. Once the investigations have taken place, it is the responsibility of the scientists to debrief the participants about the reasons and the impact of the investigation which has been conducted. Participants should be provided with an opportunity to discuss the process and findings of the investigation. They should be informed about the repercussions of the study or an act performed by them. Participants should be invited to ask questions about the investigations which should be answered honestly. The participants should be informed about any deception they have been put into and the reasons behind it. The process of debriefing should be done without thinking about its repercussions. Sometimes debriefing the participants in a study may not be possible like in case of fieldwork where the participants themselves are unsure whether they would be taking part in the experiment or not.

In the present ethical issues in psychology essay, we will also talk about an unethical experiment which was carried upon some children. The psychological research was conducted by Watson and Rayner in 1920. The participant in this study was a toddler named Albert, who was nine months old (ethical issues in psychology essay, 2020). The child was not like any other child of his age as he did not get upset about anything. Being indifferent made him a subject to be considered in the research work, and he was put under different situations in order to be terrorized. Before the researchers could harm the condition of little Albert, his mother took him away from the hospital. But due to the experimentation, the child had some changes in his attitude, which made him upset and nervous. Ethical issues in psychology essay could not find the reason behind his mother taking him away from the hospital is not known. It may be because of the intention of the researchers or the changes in the attitude of the child, which could be seen after eighteen days of the experiment. But there were a very few people who raised a voice against the investigation, and majorly the research went uncommented. Experimenting with children involves a lot of challenges, and it is the parents who have to understand the reason behind the experiment and the repercussions it may have on the child. When the children are aware that the investigations being conducted are performed after their parent’s consent, they willingly provide all the details. Suppose the psychologist is under a dilemma who should clearly discuss it with the parents before or while conducting the experiment. When parents firmly believe that no harm will be caused to their children, then they willingly provide their consent.

Ethical issues in psychology essay also highlight the plights of animals being considered for an experiment in psychological research. Such experiments raised brows on ethical standards. The period of 1960’s focused more on animal experimentations as a subject of psychology, so the rights of animals and the cruelty to which they were being subjected was not being considered. There were scientists who believed that some experiments require some amount of harm being inflicted upon the participants, which could not be done if in case the participant was a human. But those experiments could quickly be done on animals, and at that time to conduct an investigation was deemed necessary than to see what is right and wrong. As per Hayes (2002), conducting an experiment was more important at that time than thinking about its costs and harm (Bersoff, 2012). Scientific knowledge was given preference over individual rights. In his writing, Hayes also discussed a chimpanzee that was made to live with human beings in order to learn sign language. As she grew big, she was released in a colony which had some wild chimpanzees. One day when she recognized a visitor, she asked for help through some sign languages. The desperation to be out from the wilderness shows that the chimpanzee was put under an environment which she did not like, and this was a cruel and unethical behaviour on the part of the scientists. As per the studies conducted while writing these ethical issues in psychology essay, the experiment went unnoticed at that point in time.

The examples that have been provided in the previous paragraphs of the ethical issues in psychology essay portray such experiments as normal. But due to the establishment of the Code, advocacy of peace and love culture by the youths, the attention to social responsibility and protection of human rights, the thoughts of humanistic school as well as questions regarding some of the research studies being manipulative and deceptive had already raised a debate on ethics (Anderson and Kitchener, 2010). As the perceptions started to change, psychology as a subject also underwent specific changes. Scientists began to look for some new methodologies. Today students are more concerned about their self-satisfaction and its outcome than considering the expectations of their professors. Social behaviour is being given recognition without affecting the natural and cultural surroundings. The observations are being done through an advanced methodology which includes correlation. The changes made have given importance and brought respect for the participants involved in an experiment. It is no more only about gaining knowledge.

As per the ethical issues in psychology essay, the growing changes in the social and cultural values along with the recognition of ethical principles had a significant impact on people’s mind. In today's time, a study like that of Albert cannot be done. A number of policies have been framed, which protects the rights of the children who were being exploited since long. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child framed in 1989 is one such policy. It was the opinion of different world leaders that children below the age of 18 yrs. Do require some kind of protection and care which led to the making of the convention. Adults are old enough to speak and take a stand if in case they feel they are being put under an uncomfortable situation, but this is not possible with children. It was also necessary to bring to the notice that every child has a right to voice against any ill-treatment being inflicted upon them. Ethical issues in psychology essay inform that in order to protect children being considered for any research work, The Society for Research in Child Development in 2007 established the Ethical Standards for Research with Children (Koocher and Keith-Spiegel, 1985). The standards help in protecting the rights of child like that of Albert, who is subjected to some upsetting techniques, which has a negative effect on their development. If the ethical codes would not have been established, then it would have been difficult to protect the rights of the individuals and their voices. It is also very much clear that children would also have to face the same agony that adult humans had to face before the establishment of the codes.

After the establishment and recognition of ethical codes and standards, it is no more possible to conduct research on an animal like the chimpanzee, as mentioned in the previous paragraph of the ethical issues in psychology essay. The experiments being conducted on animals in the 1960s and early 1970s had to be stopped due to the rising arguments against such researchers and research activities. In the later 1970s and 1980s, people started to focus on social responsibility towards all living beings (Matsumoto and Jones, n.d.). There were animal rights activists and campaigns which highlighted the ill-treatment being caused on the animals in such psychological research experiments. There were some ethical guidelines formulated to save the rights of the animals, and one of them was the establishment of Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in the Care and Use of Animals in the year 1996. Today these guidelines are being supported and implemented by people and researchers. If in case any of the scientists are looking forward to using an animal in order to conduct research, he has to take proper caution to safeguard the animal from any internal or external danger. He also has to provide a valid and acceptable justification for using an animal in any experiment. Professionals who are qualified enough to conduct research on animals are only allowed to do such acts (Acklin, 2018). Overall it can be stated that the development of ethical guidelines has changed people’s perspective about animals, and they are being given equal importance and respect as that of a human being.

Going by this ethical issues in psychology essay, we can clearly see that the studies conducted by Milgram in the year 1974, Jones and Singhal in the year 1971 and Felipe and Sommer in the year 1966, considered the participants and manipulative objects and a thing which can be put under deception in order to gain knowledge and prove a point. There were many other such studies, but only a handful of them have been discussed in these ethical issues in psychology essay (Fiske, Henningsen and Buyx, 2019). Procedures which raised a question were justified by statements that like it is being done for a better future and for the benefit of the society. But these justifications led people to realize their importance and their rights and responsibilities which brought changes in many concepts of psychology. The end results were the framing of ethical guidelines for all forms of living beings, which included adults, children and animals. One of the guideline framed in the year 2006, BPS Code of Ethics and Conduct enumerates specific guidelines and professional practice which needs to be adhered to for conducting researches which consider humans as it participants (Koocher and Kinscherff, 2016). People performing research procedures need to follow four essential rules which are respect, integrity, competence and responsibility. All these rules help in building respect for the participants involved in the research process.

As mentioned in the ethical issues in psychology essay, changes not only came due to the adoption of ethical principles, but the changes in social and cultural values also changed the attitude of the people. There was respect for all kinds of human beings, adults, children and old people. Even respect and love could be seen for animals who could not speak for themselves. During this fight to protect and respect one’s right, the value of equity started to be recognized. Feminists and people from different genders began to be vocal about their rights, and being a homosexual was no more considered as a mental illness in society. Being homosexual was regarded as a mental illness which was removed by the American Psychiatric Association in the year 1973 from its list of disorders. The step provided a clear message that being homosexual is not an illness; instead, it is one of the forms of expression. In the previous period, there was bias within heterosexual people, but that did not give any preference to homosexual people. The issues and rights of the minority community were highlighted by the American Psychiatric Association. The step was great support for gay people in that period of time. In the year 1984, the Society for the Psychological Study of Gay and Lesbians Issues was established through division 44 of the American Psychological Association. The society and many groups started to be vocal about the civil rights of all persons, including gays and lesbians. It can be said in the ethical issues in psychology essay that this was the time when these gay and lesbian people got to see the change of attitudes of others towards themselves. In the later part of 1990, there was a drastic change of attitudes and the advancement of thinking in people's minds with regards to homosexuals, and this has been mentioned in the Gallup trends. The percentage of people who wanted homosexuals in different job profiles rose by 74% in the year 1992. Previously the percentage was 56% in the year 1977, and in 2003 it rose to 88%. Similar growth was seen on the acceptance of homosexuality as an alternate lifestyle. The percentage rose from 34% in the year 1982 to 38% in the year 1992 and later in the year 1999 it rose to 50% (Jenkin and Winter, 2020). The statistics mentioned in the ethical issues in psychology essay clearly signifies the change of attitudes and how the change in social and cultural values brought a change in psychology as a subject. It is evident that ethical principles and change of attitudes had a significant impact on people's opinions.

The change of opinion could also be seen when talking about mental illness in the ethical issues in psychology essay. Mental illness was regarded as one of the worst disabilities, and nobody sympathized with such people. These people were suffering from some kind of disability, but the rejection that they got from society and people’s attitude towards themselves made them handicaps. The phase was prevalent during the 1970s. It was demonstrated in some of the studies that the labels that a person who has any of the disability gets, changes the perception of the people and these labels serve as a parameter through which people were treated. In the 1960s and 1970's searching for a home, jobs or friends was considered as more problematic for a previous mental illness person than compared to an ex-criminal. The unequal and inhumane treatment of mental health persons led many groups to fight for their rights. The United Nations, in the year 1991, adopted the principles of Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and for the Improvement of Mental Health Care (Campbell, 2016). The primary aim of the principle was to protect the rights of the people who were suffering from some mental illness. The principle laid down that mental illness people are not different, and they can exercise the same rights which a normal person can do. Ethical issues in psychology essay state that such people have a right to live and work in the society and the people who are being treated for mental illness should be recognized as a legal person. The National Commission on the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research in the year 1978 established certain guiding principles basis which a research work could be conducted on mental health people. The researchers have to be benevolent, be ethical and respect such persons. Later on, these principles became foundation rules for research studies having humans as the participants (ethical issues in psychology essay, 2020).

It can be seen in the ethical issues in psychology essay, though ethical principles have been established, there still exits some psychologist facing dilemmas. In a study conducted in the year 1992, there were 700 members of American Psychological Society who found specific incidents which were challenging the ethical guidelines. The common dilemma faced by them was related to confidentiality which posed a threat to third parties. Many of the studies were conducted pertaining to child abuse, people being infected with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) or AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) (Campbell, 2016). There were studies conducted on persons who had committed a criminal or violent act. In these studies, maintaining confidentiality was tough, and to a certain point impossible. Participants of such studies always complained about their privacy being put under danger and violation of ethical guidelines. But there are situations wherein a psychologist has to think beyond the ethical principles; otherwise, it may lead to tragic incidents. The ethical issues in psychology essay can state about an incident wherein the psychologist had to break the ethical principles. A man named Poddar was charged with the murder of Tarasoff. The former used to visit a therapist who was aware of the intentions of Poddar. During the trial, the court adjudicated that the therapist was under a duty to inform Tarasoff about the impending danger. Although, in this case, the therapist had a confidential relationship with his client, he was supposed to break this relationship, and it was his duty to save the life of Tarasoff. In such a situation, there is a clear violation of ethical guidelines (Jenkin and Winter, 2020).

During the investigation for the information related to ethical issues in psychology essay, it was revealed that psychologist also faces a dilemma when they are supposed to take an informed consent which is a significant part of research work. The essential part of any research work is participants understanding of the study and the risks associated with it. The problem can be clearly seen when people who are in a vulnerable position are made to be a participant in a study, e.g. children or people suffering from any mental illness. Here it is the responsibility of the researcher to make such person aware about the investigation being conducted as they may not be in a position to actually understand the reason behind the study (Bersoff, 2012). Explaining the process and repercussions to such people cannot guarantee that they have entirely understood so if in case any psychologist claims that he has taken an informed consent, then it cannot be accepted. Informed consent is very much required when conducting clinical therapy on the participant.

Another issue which can be discussed in the ethical issues in psychology essay is the participants right to withdraw themselves from any investigation. The issue came into existence after the study conducted by Milgram. It is not necessary for participants to understand each and every detail of an investigation being done on them, as stated in the previous paragraph (Koocher and Kinscherff, 2016). There are times when participants start to feel uncomfortable with the procedures and at that time, holding them back by saying that they have given their consent is not an ethical rule. In such cases, participants should only be given a right to withdraw themselves, but they should also have the right to delete any data that has been stored during the process. The right of withdrawal should be clearly mentioned by the psychologist at the start of the investigation. The participants should not be put under any kind of pressure to remain a part of the procedure till the end. Participants should not be made responsible for any failed study, nor should they be discredited for the efforts put in by them.

The ethical issues in psychology essay will also discuss the dilemma being faced by the psychologist with reference to research place. The people conducting a study are not only required to follow ethical guidelines and conduct meaningful research, but they are also supposed to improve the life of persons being considered as the participants in the study. While conducting a social study, the psychologist can face a typical situation wherein he has to decide between his ethical and moral responsibility towards an individual and to the society as a whole (Acklin, 2018). Researches done on intimate relationships are the best examples of such scenarios. The psychologist in such study has to maintain the confidentiality of the relationship between two such persons, but if in case the participants are suffering in such a situation the psychologist also has a social responsibility to make others aware about the sufferings. But this publicizing of sufferings may not be acceptable to one of the two participants.

Ethical principles in modern times form a significant part of psychology. But as per the study conducted in the ethical issues in psychology essay, following ethical standards were not part of early researches done in this subject. Ethical standards and guidelines came into existence due to continuous efforts of people and participants being vocal about their rights, the value provided to social and cultural issues, activities conducted youth in the form of peach and love, framing of ethical codes in Nuremberg, highlighting studies which caused a deception, all these things led to the development of debates on studies being conducted (Anderson and Kitchener, 2010). Today, if an experiment has to be undertaken by considering humans or animals, the psychologist has to first take approval from an institutional review board which has been formed to ensure that the experiments being conducted are on the lines of ethical guidelines.

It is also necessary that the psychologist should be competent enough to perform the experiments on the chosen participants. The participants have a right to know about the competency of the psychologist in order to take part in the study. When a psychologist is well trained and has undergone a number of workshops, the commission of errors and ethical standards being overlooked is less. If a participant wants to enquire about the competency of the psychologist, then he has every right to do so (Matsumoto and Jones, n.d.). Going by the ethical issues in psychology essay, competence in the form of doctoral degree along with cultural competence is necessary before a psychologist conducts an experiment. Cultural competence here denotes knowledge about the culture, background, religion, ethnicity, etc. of the participant. It is also necessary that the psychologist remains up to date in order to be aware of the developments being made in different psychological fields before conducting his next research.

However, countries which understood the fault in the studies being conducted implemented the ethical guidelines. The process led them to accept and change their social and cultural values and respect the individuality and choice of participants. But still, there are many other countries which have not yet realized the importance of ethical guidelines as they are unable to see any infringement. Those countries need to witness a debate on ethics in order to bring changes in the process of psychological studies.

 We hope that the ethical issues in psychology essay will guide every psychologist to adhere to ethical guidelines while conducting their experiments.

2020 ethical issues in psychology essay. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 December 2020].

Acklin, M.W. (2018) Beyond the Boundaries: Ethical Issues in the Practice of Indirect Personality Assessment in Non-Health-Service Psychology. Journal of Personality Assessment, 102(2), pp.323-336

Anderson, S. and Kitchener, K., 2010. Foundations Of Ethical Practice, Research, And Teaching In Psychology. Hove: Psychology.

Bersoff, D., 2012. Ethical Conflicts In Psychology. Washington: DC.

Campbell, R. (2016) "It's The Way That You Do It": Developing an Ethical Framework for Community Psychology Research and Action. American Journal of Community Psychology, 58(3-4).

Fiske A, Henningsen P, Buyx A. (2019) Your Robot Therapist Will See You Now: Ethical Implications of Embodied Artificial Intelligence in Psychiatry, Psychology, and Psychotherapy J Med Internet Res, 21(5):e13216.

Jenkin C. A and Winter A.D. (2020) Exploration of Ethical Construing in Clinical Psychology Doctoral Students: An Adaptation of Repertory Grid Technique, Journal of Constructivist Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/10720537.2020.1805830

Koocher, G. and Keith-Spiegel, P., 1985. Ethics In Psychology And The Mental Health Professions. Crown Publishing Group/Random House.

Koocher, G. P., and Kinscherff, R. T. (2016). Ethical issues in psychology and juvenile justice. In K. Heilbrun, D. DeMatteo, & N. E. S. Goldstein (Eds.), APA handbooks in psychology®. APA handbook of psychology and juvenile justice (p. 693–714). American Psychological Association.

Matsumoto, D. and Jones, C., n.d. Ethical Issues in Cross-Cultural Psychology. The Handbook of Social Research Ethics, pp.323-336.


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