Ethical guidelines are a fundamental part of Psychological Research. The guidelines are there to not only protect and maintain the reputation of psychology as a responsible, scientific discipline; but also to outline what is acceptable and not acceptable when conducting research. These guidelines ensure that no participant experiences distress (physical or psychological) as a result of that research. Ethics are simply described in Research Methods in Psychology by Howitt and Cramer as ‘Moral principles by which psychologists conduct themselves’
However, it is my personal belief that although ethics are put in place to protect participants, the findings from some studies in which ethical guidelines have been broken, are the studies that have provided us with ground breaking discoveries. In my opinion, a key example of this would be the study conducted by Watson and Raynor in 1920. The participant of the study, Little Albert, was only 18 months old when the study occurred. He was used to test the theory of whether or not phobias could be learnt through classical conditioning. Little Albert, whilst taking part in the study was subject to physical and psychological distress, causing him to develop phobias of many items and animals. Watson and Raynor, whilst presenting the item that they wished for Little Albert to learn to fear, would hit a steel bar behind the child’s head. Thus when an item/animal was presented again, Little Albert would associate that item with the terrible sound and learn to fear it. So, when the, for example, white rat was then shown to Little Albert he would now being expecting the noise from the steel bar to come with it. The distress that Albert went through breaks all ethical guidelines in place today. However, although Little Albert went through large amounts of stress from the study Systematic Desensitization, one of the leading therapies used to change the association of phobias to calm.
The findings that Watson and Raynor provided have helped to cure thousands of phobias. Without the research conducted on Little Albert, it is questionable as to whether or not those phobias could have been cured. However, does that make it acceptable to break ethics and cause people harm?
However, it will also be argued that without ethical guidelines being adhered to Psychological research should not be conducted. Some may argue that Watson and Raynor’s study should never have taken place as Little Albert was never helped to over come his newly developed phobias. That is why it is key for the researchers to put in place a degree of judgement in their application.
Ultimately, when research is conducted adherence to ethical guidelines is paramount. Without ethics Psychology would not only lose its scientific and disciplined reputation, but the participants that provide us with the ability to research and develop ground breaking discoveries into the mind and its endless possibilities.