Why do researchers need ethical approval to conduct psychological research?

Ethics are the moral principles that guide a person’s behaviour or how they conduct an activity. Before conducting a psychological experiment, researchers must apply for ethical approval. It is important to consider any ethical issues before an experiment starts to make sure that it will not cause harm to the people that decide to take part.

Researchers ask for ethical approval from an ethics committee. This is a group of people (typically other researchers) who look in detail at the proposed experiment and try to find any ethical issues with it. The types of issues an ethics committee might look for include:

- Harm: Will taking part in the experiment cause physical or psychological harm to the participant?

- Informed consent: Has the participant been given enough information to understand what the experiment will involve, before agreeing to take part?

- Confidentiality: How will the identity of the participants be kept confidential? For example, researchers should use participant numbers instead of names.

- Deception: Does the researcher mislead participants about what the aims of the study are? Sometimes this is necessary to make sure that participants do not know what the study is about. However, it is only acceptable to deceive participants if no harm will be caused by doing so.

- Debriefing: After the experiment is finished, are the participants given full and honest information about the aims of the experiment and given the chance to ask any questions they might have?

If an ethics committee are concerned about any of these issues, they will ask the researcher to make changes to their experiment. The British Psychological Society have written guidelines to help researchers make sure that their experiments are ethical. If you are interested, you can find these guidelines on the following web page:


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