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Ethical Issue in Psychology Essay Example

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Researchers should recognize and mitigate various ethical issues in psychology to ensure effective decision-making and ethical conduct. One of the leading ethical issues emerging in the context of psychology studies involves deception. According to Rahwan et al. (2022), deception encompasses the deliberate and explicit misleading of study participants instead of withholding information related to experimental manipulations or hypotheses. Despite its intended purpose of generating authentic study outcomes, deception in psychology remains a controversial issue, which researchers should control to ensure ethical practice.

The deception may occur in different ways. For instance, the participants may be informed that they are interacting with their peers but in reality, they are interacting with the study team’s members or programmed computer scripts to control their experience. Another approach involves obscuring the hypothesis to reduce participants’ attempts to conform to such hypotheses (Krasnow et al., 2020). The authors indicate psychological research incorporates limited perception based on various justifications, such as the need for methodological flexibility and precision to attain the desired experimental controls. The approach is also used to allow researchers to investigate responses to rare social circumstances, such as the behaviors generated by real partners in social contexts. The approach also increases the validity based on improved experimental practicality (Krasnow et al., 2020). However, deception leads to critical ethical concerns by misleading participants about the research aims. It also increases participants’ suspicions, thus influencing their future behavior.

Based on the ethical issues linked to deception in psychological studies, current ethics codes have consistently limited the use of such a practice in scenarios where non-deceptive options are impossible. In such contexts, the researcher must debrief all participants who have been subjected to deception while giving them the option of withdrawing their data after becoming aware of the deception (Hilbig & Thielmann, 2021). These scenarios present critical ethical challenges and dilemmas in various psychological studies, such as those involving web-based research as participants may unilaterally discontinue the study. For instance, they may drop out of the study, thus limiting the chances of receiving a full debriefing or withdrawing their data. Consequently, the study would fail to meet ethical standards, hence losing credibility and leading to its dismissal. Such a context demonstrates the critical ethical impacts associated with participant deception in psychological studies, thus indicating the need for such a practice’s optimal mitigation.

Moreover, deception undermines psychologists’ ability to operate effectively within ethical considerations in psychological procedures. Deception is likely to harm participants, thus leading to its coverage in ethical guidelines. This aspect shows the need for its control to ensure participants’ safety. The American Psychological Association (APA) indicates that psychologists must avoid using deception unless the outcomes justify the means (Online Psychology Degrees, n.d.). This implies that psychologists can only use deception if the results outweigh the deceptive tactics’ potential danger. However, a critical ethical dilemma emerges due to the challenges experienced when trying to justify that the study outcomes outweigh participant deception. Consequently, irrespective of the outcomes, deception is disallowed in psychological studies when researchers can obtain the same results without using deceptive means. Such a procedure is also prohibited if it is likely to cause emotional or physical pain (Online Psychology Degrees, n.d.). These details demonstrate the ethical challenges associated with deception, thus requiring psychologists to avoid the practice due to its potential harm to participants.

The unethical nature of deception has also been covered in recent studies to demonstrate the need for the practice’s optimal control for participant safety. The study by Hilbig et al. (2022) supports the explored perspective by highlighting the critical rules underlying the use of deception in psychological studies. The authors cite the APA’s most recent ethics code, which emphasizes the need for psychologists to avoid conducting any study involving deception. Such a code requires psychologists to adequately ascertain that the use of deceptive approaches is justified by the study’s potential educational, scientific, or applied value while considering that such outcomes are impossible with the use of non-deceptive alternative procedures (Hilbig et al., 2022). Consequently, the ethics code in the field of psychology prohibits or limits the use of deception to psychological procedures that do not generate prospective value. This implies that psychologists should uphold non-deceptive alternatives in their studies to mitigate the possible ethical dilemmas associated with using deception in psychology.

Besides, ethical issues associated with deception in psychology have led to major debates focusing on the need to limit such a practice in psychological contexts. According to Hilbig et al. (2022), the debates have focused on whether the rules underlying the use of deception are adequate, thus leading to the ethical dilemma on whether deception can be justified or used at all in psychological procedures. The debates have dominantly covered two critical perspectives, which demonstrate the unethical nature of deception in psychology. They entail the harm done to the participant and the impact on the profession. Proponents have demonstrated an implicit consensus indicating that deception may be necessary in some situations to maintain validity or mitigate more severe ethical violations. However, they consistently acknowledge the need to use deceptive techniques as the justified last resort (Hilbig et al., 2022). These details demonstrate the controversial nature of deception in psychology, thus leading to critical ethical dilemmas, which psychologists should mitigate to ensure moral conduct and credible outcomes in their procedures.

Furthermore, according to Skavlid (2019), deception research encompasses an ethical dilemma in itself due to the failure to disclose fully the study purpose to the participants. This implies that participants remain unaware of the study’s aim or value to them. The use of deception also contributes to critical ethical concerns in psychology by undermining participants’ ability to assess the potential risks associated with particular psychological procedures (Yanow & Schwartz-Shea, 2018). For instance, the participants remain unaware that they are under investigation, thus hindering their ability to voluntarily engage in the study. Such circumstances demonstrate the ethical dilemmas associated with deception, which indicate the practice’s unacceptability, thus resulting in their clear prohibition by some ethics review committees (Yanow & Schwartz-Shea, 2018). Accordingly, these details indicate the ethical challenges associated with deception in psychology, thus requiring researchers and psychologists to mitigate the use of deceptive techniques, which may contribute to other ethical concerns, related to participant harm and voluntariness in research.

The analysis of deception used in various psychological research contexts indicates the ethical dilemmas linked to such a practice, thus showing the need for its mitigation. The first critical example involves Milgram’s Obedience Experiment of 1963, which is widely known for involving deceptive techniques. In such an experiment, Stanley Milgram focused on measuring individuals’ obedience to particular instructions from an authority. The participants were expected to deliver electric shocks to individuals they believed to be fellow study subjects but in reality, they were actors collaborating with the researcher (Skavlid, 2019). Such a practice of deceiving participants to believe that they were inflicting pain on fellow subjects is a critical form of deception that cannot be allowed in today’s research contexts.

Another experiment highlighting deception in psychological research involves the Brown Eyes vs. Blue Eyes Experiment of 1968. In this context, Jane Elliot, an educator and activist, conducted the experiment in her third-grade class to teach learners about the effects of discrimination. Accordingly, without explaining to the children, Elliot performed the experiment by informing students that their eye color was a critical determinant that they were better than others. On the first day of the study, she told blue-eyed students that they were cleaner, smarter, and nicer. Subsequently, Elliot treated blue-eyed children better compared to how she handled brown-eyed learners. On the second day, she revered the experimental procedure and treated brown-eyed learners better. The outcomes demonstrate that the children’s behavior and emotions reflected their classroom status. Despite the valuable results obtained from such an experiment, the researcher’s manipulation of third graders’ emotions cannot be approved in today’s psychological studies (Online Psychology Degrees, n.d.). These details exemplify the ethical dilemmas associated with deception in psychology.

Overall, the discussion has covered the ethical issue of deception in psychology to demonstrate the need for its limitation and control. The details explored indicate that deceptive techniques may harm the participants and the profession despite the intended objective of attaining research validity. Consequently, the explored details and examples demonstrate the major ethical challenges associated with deception, thus leading to its control or prohibition in today’s psychological studies.


  • Hilbig, B. E., & Thielmann, I. (2021). On the (mis)use of deception in web-based research: Challenges and recommendations. Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 229(4), 225–229. https://doi.org/10.1027/2151-2604/a000466
  • Hilbig, B. E., Thielmann, I., & Böhm, R. (2022). Bending our ethics code: Avoidable deception and its justification in psychological research. European Psychologist, 27(1), 62-70. https://doi.org/10.1027/1016-9040/a000
  • Krasnow, M. M., Howard, R. M., & Eisenbruch, A. B. (2020). The importance of being honest? Evidence that deception may not pollute social science subject pools after all. Behavior Research Methods, 52(3), 1175-1188. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13428-019-01309-y
  • Online Psychology Degrees. (n.d.). How psychologists use deception. https://www.online-psychology-degrees.org/study/how-psychologists-use-deception/
  • Rahwan, Z., Fasolo, B., & Hauser, O. P. (2022). Deception about study purpose does not affect participant behavior. Scientific Reports, 12(1), 1-7. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-21972-0
  • Skavlid, S. (2019). Deception research. National Research Ethics Committees. https://www.forskningsetikk.no/en/resources/the-research-ethics-library/methods/deception-research/
  • Yanow, D., & Schwartz-Shea, P. (2018). Framing" deception" and" covertness" in research: Do Milgram, Humphreys, and Zimbardo justify regulating social science research ethics. In Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 19(3), 1-31.
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