Ethic Principals 1 Running head: ETHIC PRINCIPALS IN PSYCHOLOGICAL EXPERIMENTS

Ethic Principals in Psychological Experiments Robert T. Pottorff Texas Christian University

Ethic Principals 2 Ethics within psychology has not always been a comfortable topic of discussion, many cases have proven the need for a set of guidelines outlining what is acceptable and unacceptable so as to best benefit humanity as a whole, and more importantly the subjects of experiments that enable progress within the science. Two studies in particular are worth discussion in terms of human experimentation, the Zimbardo Prison Experiment, and The Monster study, both of which show examples of what can happen when ethics are violated. These two studies are accented by Harry Harlow’s monkey isolation experiments that detail why guidelines protecting subjects must extend to animals as well as humans. In the Zimbardo Prison Experiment, students who were solicited from both inside and outside of Stanford University were randomly assigned to the role of Guard or Prisoner and then observed in a mock prison environment for the course of one week. The study was designed to test the hypothesis that these two groups self-select a disposition based on their classification and ran. Concerns regarding the structure of the study question Zimbardo’s choice to be involved in the study as ‘Prison Superintendent’, as well as the length of time and severity to which the prisoners were abused have helped to label the study unethical. The Monster Study regarding stuttering was slightly less self-contained. Orphan children were organized into two groups, each of which had two subdivisions. Group one contained ten stuttering children, half of whom were told “You do not stutter”, while the other half was told “You do stutter”. Group two, which contained twelve normal speakers, was also divided where one half was told “You do stutter” and the other half was told “You do not stutter”. The study was designed to test the hypothesis that stuttering is not entirely a genetic trait, but influenced by the social environment. It was only after the experiment that concerns regarding the probability that the children would be permanently afflicted with a stuttering problem were voiced.

Ethic Principals 3 The two APA guidelines that are in greatest question with these two studies are section 3.04, avoiding harm, and, in the case of the Zimbardo Prison Study, section 3.06, avoiding Conflict of Interest. It is somewhat retroactive to discuss the Monster Study in terms of how it violates a set of guidelines that were instituted after its completion, but for the sake of discussion, the principals of the APA guidelines are rooted in a common and natural morality that existed at the time. Both studies, though in different grades of harm, violated the fundamental ethical principal to avoid psychological harm to their subjects. Students in the Prison Study were subjected to feelings of isolation, helplessness, loss of control, and inferiority. These feelings were necessary to create the desired environment, but not to the extent in which they were impressed upon the Prisoners. The harm caused far more severe and long-term effects in the children involved in the Monster study, inciting them to withdraw and to refuse to speak for fear of displaying their ‘problem’. None of the students retained the stuttering problem gained during the 6 month study, but most continued to act introverted and, as outlined in the case against the University of Iowa in 2007, became “increasingly self-conscious and reluctant to speak”. There is no definitive research to suggest a direct causation between either of these studies and the APA ethic guidelines, but the principal of disregard for harming a subject is the very principal that the APA guidelines were created to combat. While not directly related, it could be said that the guidelines were created for research projects like the Zimbardo Prison Study and Monster Study to provide them a real and legal, rather than just a theoretical yardstick to which they can measure the ethical standards of their study. In this way, they provided the purpose behind these guidelines. These studies were not designed to be simply unethical; each had clear questions and theories that attained answers and data. In the Monster Study, a vast amount of information about

Ethic Principals 4 the effect of environmental conditioning on children with and without stutters was collected. The theory was reinforced and is still a leading theory regarding the cause of stuttering today; however, the harm caused to the children after the study is irreversible, and they should have been debriefed and treated for the stuttering they developed during the experiment. None of this happened, and the needless pain that resulted from the lack of after-experiment treatment seriously calls into question the benefits of the study as a whole. The Stanford Prison Study, at least in the eyes of some psychologists, gave a lot of support for the theory that people take upon the psychological disposition contained within their role, which leads to sadistic behavior by Guards and humble compliance by Prisoners. The experiment, and theory has gone on to help real prisons institute safeguards to keep the guards from defaulting to sadism, and help retain the prisons sense of identity without losing control. Unlike the Monster Study, no lasting harm was done to the subjects involved, extensive followup research was done to ensure that no negative effects were present due to the experiment. This as well as the positive reform the study helped create in active prisons makes the study a success as a whole. In Harry Harlow’s study of isolation, Harlow raised monkeys from birth in different chambers that isolated either sight, sound, or touch of other monkeys. After 3, 6, and 12 months of isolation, the monkey was put into a social situation and observed. Additionally, the monkey was placed with different age groups of monkeys and observed for its ability to learn social behaviors. The experiments were designed to test the effect of isolation on social aptitude; however, ethical concerns regarding the lengths and type of isolation have been raised by Harlow’s peers and the public.

Ethic Principals 5 Although, like the Monster Study, it is unfair to judge these experiments based on guidelines that were created after the experiments took place, the ethical principals behind them are common and should have been taken into account when designing the experiments. The clearest violation was regarding the isolation apparatuses, which, while necessary for the experiment, disregarded the well-being of the animals for the entirety of the experiment. Most of the conditions within the apparatuses including the “pit of despair” were cruel and adverse, and, according to some psychologists, unnecessary. Overall the subjects were treated without proper care regarding their psychological state and in most cases unnecessarily so. Harlow’s isolation experiment did, however produce data, which would help scientists understand, analyze, and treat isolation behavior issues in human beings. The understanding of how isolation affects the maternal instincts grew and helped to push studies forward regarding the topic. As a whole, many people have had a positive impact on isolation behaviors as a result of this study, but this ultimately does not outweigh the pain subjected to these monkeys. Harlow should have designed the experiment so as to minimize the harm inflicted upon the well-being of the animal or not have done the experiment at all. Experiments like the Monster Study and Harlow’s isolation study produce examples where guidelines like those in the APA ethics code are important and necessary. These guidelines are a clear way of maintaining experiment methods to ensure they place the well-being of subjects above the results. There will be times when the guidelines will fall short or, in some cases, overstep their purpose as needed experiments are designed that will test adverse qualities, such as isolation or cancer treatments. But, while these experiments are few and far between, by having a strict guideline to measure against the unnecessary harm to its subjects even in the cases of these adverse experiments, harm can be avoided.

Ethic Principals 6 As these guidelines grow and evolve, they will undoubtedly shape current and future research. Universities will deny research money to experiments that may cross the ethical line today but ten years ago would have been acceptable. There may be times when the benefit to humanity outweighs the cost to the subject, especially in animal research, but it is the purpose of the guidelines to be the judge of specifically these moments. It is possible that this could slow research on diseases like cancer and AIDS, whose experiments sometimes require the infection of subjects, but this is not altogether adverse to science, as new methods of testing are being created, and a greater sense of peace is resulting between an outraged public and science. Ultimately the APA guidelines are a benefit to science, as they help keep the purpose of research ethical and meaningful.

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