The declaration of Helsinki has been referred to by many as the cornerstone document of human research ethics. (WMA 2000, Bošnjak 2001, Tyebkhan 2003). The Helsinki convention has been spread by the World Medical Association as a statement of ethical principles for medical research involving human subjects. The 5 basic principals of ethics are as follows-
- Research on humans should be based on results from lab experimentations.
- Research protocol should be reviewed by committee before initiation.
- Informed consent from participants is needed.
- Research should be conducted by qualified individuals.
- The risks should not out weigh the benefits.
Both the Helsinki Convention and the BPS code require the participant are to give informed consent as an ethical guideline. However, in order for almost all experiments in Psychology to be worthwhile and the results to be valid, it would not be possible to ensure there is informed consent. Deception invalidates any informed consent gained by the experimenter, yet we find that deception is oftem unavoidable. The most important findings in Psychology have come from experiments in which deception has taken place, for example Milgram’s 1963 obedience experiment. Many would agree that what Milgram found astonishing and many would deem this experiment as one of the most important in the history of Psychology, and yet many more consider it to be unethical. But was it? After the experiment a survey showed that 84% of participants “glad” to “very glad” that they participated in the experiment. Some even wrote letters that expressed their thanks. Due to the participants being deceived, is informed consent possible?
We have all participated in a Sona experiment. I for one have been participated in an experiment in which some information had been withheld from me. Not about the task I had to do or what they were measuring, it was that they were also seeing if, as a non-smoker, I would respond differently to someone who smoked regularly. Did I feel deceived? Upset? I can honestly say…No. In fact it made the participant all the more interesting, and I actually read the debrief. If however I had known what they were measuring this might have affected the results.
I’m not saying that all of the ethics guidelines should be breeched, merely that in most cases a degree of deception is necessary.
Dolig Llawn pawb!