“Must the need for documented ethics procedures hinder research progress?”


Ethics, one of my favourite bones of contention. Firstly, I don’t understand the problem with the Milgram experiment, even by today’s standards I’m not really of the opinion that it was unethical at all, all he wanted to find out was how far would people be prepared to go in the name of obedience? If the participants had known that they were not really hurting anyone then the results would have been totally false anyway. If you want to look at totally unethical studies, then I would suggest Watson’s little Albert study, this was cruel as far as I’m concerned,not just unethical. Mind you, that particular experiment was conducted in 1920, years before any ethical considerations or guidelines even existed, apart from just basic humanity of course. The boy’s mother was living a life of poverty and money was offered, but as a mother, I would assume that no amount of money could have compensated for the emotionally damaged little boy that she was left with afterwards, and there is speculation that the boy (whse real name was not Albert) died at the age of 6 after developing hydrocephalus. Was this a result of his heightened strees levels and emotional responses? There is (possibly dubious) information available via wikipedia.


Another unethical study, which was conducted AFTER ethics was born, were the twin studies carrried out by Peter Neubauer of Yale University. In this study, again, parental consent was not only not informed, but not even considered. One set of triplets and five pairs of twins were used in this study, and what makes it famous is that two of the subjects discovered each other, and found out why they had been separated at birth. Their mother was reportedly mentally ill, and the researchers, in my opinion, used this factor to their advantage, they also insisted that the adoption agency not only separate the girls, but that neither sets of adoptive parents should be informed that their new baby daughter was a twin. This study infuriates me, firstly on a personal level, as I am an adoptee, (fortunately, although all the paperwork in my adoption file was destroyed in a fire years before I was old enough to search for my birth family, I was able to meet many of my family members and have answers for many questions) I empathise with these women. But what really annoys me, is that all the results and paperwork from these studies are still locked in a vault in Yale University and on the express wish of Neubauer not to be released until 2066. (I hope both the girls live long enough to see these papers, although they will be 98 years old by then). So, not only was the study cruelly unethical, but to hide the papers and findings is also unethical!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Identical_Strangers  (another wiki link I’m afraid, but there IS no published work on this study)


Then there’s the other side of ethics. Why should we have to have permission to run a reaction time test? After all, if we’re sensible, we will check with particiapants first to make sure they dont suffer with epilepsy or vision problems, we’re not trying to harm people with our research, we’re attempting to discover, and in some cases, we can’t inform participants of what we’re really looking for, or we won’t discover anything, just like in the case of Milgrams study had he informed participants before conducting the experiment.

Mostly however, I agree with ethics, as much as I’d love to test people on lsd or ecstasy or other hallucinogenc drugs in order to discover what actually does go on in the brain on these ‘love drugs’ I couldn’t possibly risk potential damage to my fellow humans, evn if it was only a comparitively mild emotional trauma, it would be unfair to put someone through the probing while they werein a strange state. (I’m sorry if you feel that you’d like to volunteer for such a test, but it’s just completely unethical)

I’m not even sure if I could get an aromatherapy study through the ethics board, essential oils, although natural, can have occasionally negative effects. You’re not supposed to give an aromatherapy treatment to someone who is pregnant, suffers with epilepsy or heart conditions, or even blood pressure problems without advice and written consent from their doctor in case they have an adverse reaction.In fact, legally, a qualified aromatherapist needs to have insurance before they can treat members of the public

So with this in mind, I’m afraid I’ve fallen off the fence, ethics are completely necessary, we cannot risk peoples physical mental or emotional well-being, besides, who of us could live with our consciences if we actually caused harm, not me. Science really isn’t more important than quality of life.


About tinastakeon

I'm a second year psychology student at Bangor University, blogging is now a part of one of our modules, so that's the main reason for setting this page up. I hope you'll enjoy reading them.
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4 Responses to “Must the need for documented ethics procedures hinder research progress?”

  1. I am in agreement that Milgram’s study was not unethical, little Albert’s unfortunate role in conditioning was a shame. However on the topic of psychoactive drugs i think the potential learning benefits outweigh the costs. Sample choice would be vital, why not get participants who consume these drugs to take part in an experiment, they can use just before they arrive and complete the study. no harm is being placed on them beyond what they would be doing in their recreational lives. Cannabis is my annoyance in psychological and medical studies. Basically your not allowed, but we know enough about THC to know itis psychoactive and can sometimes be harmful but it also contains CBD which has chemical properties that can treat schizophrenia with fewer side affects than conventional medication, not to mention how many cancer patients it helps, but these people are persecuted. I think not helping the people who can be easily helped is more unethical. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannabidiol

  2. kiwifruit8 says:

    Although i agree that Milgrams results justified the breach of ethics, but i dont agree with you saying that it wasnt unethical. The participants were pressured into not withdrawing with cues from the researcher such as “Its essential that you continue”, assumedly the researchers knew that authority determines compliance, by using these verbal prods, they’re abusing their power knowing the p will comply and not withdraw. Even though the participants were debriefed, some may have left the study very shocked at their behaviour and questioning their identity and abilities to cause harm. It could be argued that once participants see they’re capable of a quite sadistic act (admitting an electric shock to someone) they may see no harm in commiting other negative acts. This is the foot in the door technique, once you get someone to agree to something (putting your foot in the door of “refusing a specific attitude”) once they agree, they’re more likely to comply with a larger request.

  3. psuc1b says:

    My issue with Milgram’s study isn’t so much to do with the testing methods and deception but with the fact that the researchers did not stop the experiment when that participants became obviously distressed. I can understand that they needed to pressure them to continue to a certain extent for the experiment but one man was reported to have been close to a nervous breakdown by the end and I feel that the researchers had a responsibility to stop the experiment before, or at least when, that level of distress was reached.
    Otherwise, I completely agree with you that in some cases ethics may seem a little superfluous but they are actually a vital part of the research process.

  4. Pingback: Comments for Thandi; Week 11 « psuc1b

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