Ethics; Including The Role Of The British Psychological Society’s Code Of Ethics; Ethical Issues In The Design And Conducting Of Research, Dealing With Ethical Issues In Research

March 7, 2021 - Paper 2 Psychology in Context | Research Methods



Ethical issues involves researchers assessing and acting upon all ethical considerations involved in research before it is conducted. The main consideration of the BPS is that the health and dignity of participants should be protected. The BPS British Psychological Society has published a Code of Ethics that all psychologists have to abide by. Most research institutions (e.g. universities) have ethical committees which have to approve research projects before they take place. Before conducting research, researchers should also;

1. Seek peer advice (from colleagues)

2. Consult likely participants for their views

3. Consider alternative research methodologies

4. Establish a cost-benefit analysis of short-term and long-term consequences (from the participants point of view, distress and loss of time may be a cost however, this may be outweighed by the feeling that they have done something positive by contributing to psychological research. From the group to which the individual belongs point of view, when research is done to investigate cross-cultural differences, the research may not harm the individual however may bring about negative implications for the cultural group).

5. Assume responsibility for the research.

Exam Tip:

Avoid the mistake of confusing ethical guidelines with ethical issues.

  • The guideline tells the researcher what they should do to conduct research that is ethically acceptable.
  • An ethical issue occurs when there is a dilemma between what the researcher wants to do in order to conduct the research and the rights and dignity of the participant.

Ethical guidelines are standards of conduct or rules of behaviour set out by the British Psychological Society (BPS) adopted by various professions. Their aim is to help guide the behaviour of professionals. Psychologists are to use the guidelines to refer to when designing a piece of research.


Ethical issues  You need to know specifically about the ethical dilemmas that each of the following ethical issues can cause AND you must be able to set each one within the context of psychological research.

* Deception

* Informed consent (lack of)

* Protection from harm (lack of)


Ways in which Psychologists Deal with Ethical Issues:

  • Debriefing  Revealing the true nature of the research once the participant has taken part give the participant the option to withdraw their data.
  • Retrospective consent  This is where the participant gives consent for their data to be used in the research once they’ve taken part and have been debriefed (know the true nature of the research).
  • Prior General Consent  Asking participants to give consent for all potential research, once you have this they have technically given consent to be participants in any psychological research.
  • Presumptive Consent  Asking a group that are representative of your participants, telling them the entire truth about the research and asking if they’d consent to taking part if they do you can presume that your participants would also.
  • Confidentiality  Ensuring that participants are not able to be identified. For example, use initials (e.g. KF), assign numbers (e.g. Participant 32)
  • Right to Withdraw  Ensuring that participants are informed (and reminded) about their right to withdraw themselves and/or their data from the research at any time.
    Ethical IssueSolution to the Ethical IssueLack of consentRetrospective ConsentPrior General ConsentPresumptive ConsentDebriefingLack of protection of participantsRight to WithdrawKeep information confidentialTermination Debriefing Lack of confidentialityDon’t use participant namesDon’t share private information   

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