Psychological Research and Its Ethical Issues


Any experimental investigation should comply with certain rules and standards of conduction. It is possible to presume that the standards that should be necessarily followed in the psychological research are, first of all, the ethical norms aimed to use the methods that would bring benefits and avoid harm for the study participants.

The main purpose of this paper is the review of ethical concerns that take place in the professional practice of psychology. The evaluation of major ethical principles relevant to the research in psychology may contribute to the development of professional competence and self-efficiency increase. Secondly, the identification and analysis of the ethical principles taken into account by the authors of the recent studies are meant to assess the significance of compliance with ethics in practice. The literature review and analysis of theoretical information about professional ethics in the field of psychology will contribute to the professional development and will help to increase the effectiveness of individual research conduction.

Ethical Concerns

Sometimes the participation in the psychological investigation may be harmless and perhaps even a pleasant experience. But sometimes the researchers may balance between the harmless and immoral experiments. Thus, the ethical issues are topical in psychological research.

In the past, the psychologists often conducted experiments that were extremely risky from the ethical point of view to obtain the results that were maximally close to the outcomes that could take place in real-life situations. The researchers could also hide their assumptions, predictions, and purposes for the prevention of the controlled behavior in participants who wanted to represent themselves as good probationers and tried to avoid the negative estimations of personal characteristics. Such behavior is regarded as unethical as it provokes a sense of discomfort in study participants, and in some cases, it may harm them.

When speaking of the moral and ethical issues in research, the psychologists emphasize the significance of ethical attitude towards study participants. First of all, it is important to provide complete information about the purpose and conditions of experiments to the potential participants to obtain their consent. Researchers need to be completely honest. By disclosing information, the researchers act according to the principle of voluntary participation (Trochim, 2006). The conduction of experiments without the consent of the individuals may be regarded as a violation of the ethical code.

The researchers need to reduce the possibility of harm and provision of negative influences on the research participants not merely in terms of physical well-being but terms of psychological state and social identity as well. It is also important to use personal information confidentially and avoid its disclosure without the permission of a person. The practitioners and researchers need to remember about the professional ethics of the assessment arrangement, as well as the presentation of results to the respondents or their caregivers.

Thus, a psychologist needs to be informative and tactful to ensure that individuals’ self-perception would, at least, remain the same as it was before the assessment and would not become worse. It is possible to reveal the nature of the psychological assessment and the objects of estimation to respondents to increase the acceptance of information.

The issue of ethics is directly related to the moral responsibility, and the necessity of controlling the personal actions in the process of data collection, analysis, interpretation, and dissemination of information about the investigation results. It is possible to assume that the professionals conduct ethically in the case when they realize that their research methods are objective and are characterized by a sufficient level of representativeness. Therefore, practitioners of psychology need to raise their awareness in the field of professional ethics.

Evaluation of Ethical Considerations

This paper is focused on the analysis of articles investigating the cause-and-effect relationships between the exposure to early childhood maltreatment and the negative developmental outcomes in adolescence and adulthood. The issue of psychological maltreatment and family violence is very personal and has many emotional implications. To identify the dynamics of relations between study variables, the researchers assessed such aspects of individuals’ performance as the level of closeness and attachment to family members and partners (Savla et al., 2013; Muller, Thornback, & Bedi, 2012), the symptoms of psychological traumas (Marusak, Martin, Etkin, & Thomason, 2015), history of emotional abuse (Fonzo et al., 2016; Shapero et al., 2014; Muller, Thornback, Bedi, 2012), and the cognitive and social-emotional aptitude (Marusak, Martin, Etkin, & Thomason, 2015; Savla et al., 2013).

Most of the studies involved a large size sample, the number of the participants varied from 51 (Marusak, Martin, Etkin, & Thomason, 2015) to 3.487 (Savla et al., 2013). The studies assessed children and parents (Marusak, Martin, Etkin, & Thomason, 2015), as well as young and middle-aged adults (Savla et al., 2013; Muller, Thornback, & Bedi, 2012).

The articles review made it clear that the main ethical consideration of the authors was the principle of voluntary participation and informed consent. For example, one of the studies recruited adolescents and children through the advertisements placed online and in the clinical psychiatry sites in Detroit (Marusak, Martin, Etkin, & Thomason, 2015). It shows that the participants were mainly motivated by the personal interest and benefits that they could attain through assessment.

The studies do not reveal the personal information about the research participants and mention only the basic data related to demographic and social backgrounds. Thus, researchers follow the ethical principle of confidentiality.

The issue of results’ misinterpretation has many ethical implications. In case the results are misinterpreted or biased due to failure to keep up with the standards of testing and assessment, it may negatively affect the participant’s self-perception and social performance. The biased assessment outcomes may provoke significant discomfort and interfere with individuals’ life flow; therefore, biasing may lead to the unfair use of results and is unethical. The lack of test bias may be regarded as the premise of the results’ fairness. Therefore, for the data validity and reliability increase, the psychologists need to follow the standardized analytic procedures in the research conduction as it is demonstrated in the analyzed articles.

Ethics in Professional Practice

The ethical regulations of professional practice of psychology are not limited merely by the principles of informed consent and confidentiality – it is concerned with the norms, traditions, and rules of behavior concerning both clients and colleagues.

The principle of acceptance and impartiality is of significant importance. In the assessment of study participants or diagnosing patients, psychologists need to act according to the principle of positive acceptance. The acceptance doesn’t mean the encouragement of an individual’s behavior but implies the lack of personal evaluation and emotional attitude, especially a negative one. By following this principle, the psychologists show respect to the study participants and demonstrate a high level of professionalism.

It is also important to pay respect to the colleagues, their professional development and contribution to research, as well as a selection of working methods. Firstly, a scholar needs to follow the rules of APA formatting and citing. The application of researchers’ ideas in writings without proper citing the resources is unethical and disrespectful. The discussions and criticism of others’ works and ideas should be tactful and must be supported by the arguments.

The principle of professional competence is one of the most crucial for psychologists. A psychologist cannot fulfill the complex tasks if he/she doesn’t have sufficient expertise for it. The application of some tests and analytical methods requires a set of well-developed skills, experience, and competence, and the lack of knowledge and expertise may lead to biasing and misinterpretation of estimates. Thus, a psychologist should know how to assess his/her professional skills to avoid the incidents that may jeopardize his/her reputation and professionalism or put a respondent’s well-being at risk.


The main purpose of psychology as a science is the exploration of human nature, and the very word “human” leads to the thought about humanity, i.e. ethics and morality. Therefore, the practice of psychology cannot be merely pragmatically oriented, but it should consider the ethical approach as well.

The self-perception of a specialist in any profession starts from the reflection on the problems involved in the professional activities and decision-making, and this kind of self-perception may become an excellent motivational basis for the development of knowledge needed for the problems’ solving and personal growth. It is possible to say that the psychologists’ value orientations go beyond the field of psychology and touch upon many other areas including ethics. Through the accumulation of knowledge and attempts to resolve multiple internal and external professional and ethical issues, a specialist contributes to personal growth and the development of professional content.


Fonzo, G. A., Ramsawh, H. J., Flagan, T. M., Simmons, A. N., Sullivan, S. G., Allard, C. B.,… Stein, M. B. (2016). Early life stress and the anxious brain: Evidence for a neural mechanism linking childhood emotional maltreatment to anxiety in adulthood. Psychological Medicine, 46(5), 1037-1054. Web.

Marusak, H. A., Martin, K. R., Etkin, A., & Thomason, M. E. (2015). Childhood trauma exposure disrupts the automatic regulation of emotional processing. Neuropsychopharmacology, 40, 1250-1258. Web.

Muller, R. T., Thornback, K., & Bedi, R. (2012). Attachment as a mediator between childhood maltreatment and adult symptomatology. Journal of Family Violence, 27(3), 243-255. Web.

Savla, J. T., Roberto, K. A., Jaramillo-Sierra, A. L., Gambrel, L. E., Karimi, H., & Butner, L. M. (2013). Childhood abuse affects emotional closeness with family in mid- and later life. Child Abuse & Neglect, 37(6), 388-399. Web.

Shapero, B. G., Black, S. K., Liu, R. T., Klugman, J., Bender, R. E., Abramson, L. Y., & Alloy, L. B. (2014). Stressful life events and depression symptoms: The effect of childhood emotional abuse on stress reactivity. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 70(3), 209-223. Web.

Trochim, W. M. K. (2006). Ethics in Research. Research Methods Knowledge Base. Web.

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