Research Ethics

One topic that has been of increasing concern during recent years in professional associations such as the American Psychological Association (APA) is research ethics. The membership of the APA recognizes that making certain that ethical procedures are followed in conducting a research study is even more important than research designs and data-analysis procedures.

All professional organizations that sponsor research on human subjects subscribe to a written or unwritten code of ethics that sanctions certain procedures in research on human and animal subjects and strongly opposes other procedures and practices. A professional code of ethics for research, such as that of the American Psychological Association (1992), stresses the importance of considerate treatment and respect for research subjects, the necessity of obtaining the informed consent of research participants, and maintaining confidentiality of research results. Whatever the age of the research subjects, and especially when schoolchildren and older adults in nursing homes and other institutions are involved, care must be taken not to exploit them because of their "captive" status.

Informed consent implies that the subjects have been told the purpose of the research and their participation in it, what they will be required to do, what risks, potential harm, or benefits to them may occur as a result of participating in the research, and that they may withdraw from the research investigation at any time. Subjects are also assured that withdrawal will result in no penalty of any kind, and that, in any case, the personally identified findings will be kept confidential and released to another person only with the consent of the participant or his or her legal representative. After receiving this explanation, the subject either agrees (preferably in writing) or refuses to participate in the research study. It is noteworthy that the same stipulations of informed consent and confidentiality apply to the results of psychological and educational assessment of students, patients, clients, or employees (see Aiken, 1997).

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