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MPTUO1a: Unit 1 Videos / Ethics
Week 1 / Unit 1

Video: Ethics

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Video Transcript – Ethics

Ethical standards in the discipline have changed over time. Some famous past studies are today considered unethical and in violation of established codes the Canadian Code of Conduct for Research Involving Humans, and the Belmont Report).

The most important contemporary standards are informed and voluntary consent. After World War II, the Nuremberg Code was established because of Nazi abuses of experimental subjects. Later, most countries (and scientific journals) adopted the Declaration of Helsinki. In the U.S., the National Institutes of Health established the Institutional Review Board in 1966, and in 1974 adopted the National Research Act (HR 7724). All of these measures encouraged researchers to obtain informed consent from human participants in experimental studies. A number of influential studies led to the establishment of this rule; such studies included the MIT and Fernald School radioisotope studies, the Thalidomide tragedy, the Willowbrook hepatitis study, and Stanley Milgram’s studies of obedience to authority.


University psychology departments have ethics committees dedicated to the rights and well-being of research subjects. Researchers in psychology must gain approval of their research projects before conducting any experiment to protect the interests of human participants and laboratory animals.[247]

The ethics code of the American Psychological Association originated in 1951 as “Ethical Standards of Psychologists”. This code has guided the formation of licensing laws in most American states. It has changed multiple times over the decades since its adoption. In 1989, the APA revised its policies on advertising and referral fees to negotiate the end of an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission. The 1992 incarnation was the first to distinguish between “aspirational” ethical standards and “enforceable” ones. Members of the public have a five-year window to file ethics complaints about APA members with the APA ethics committee; members of the APA have a three-year window.[248]

Some of the ethical issues considered most important are the requirement to practice only within the area of competence, to maintain confidentiality with the patients, and to avoid sexual relations with them. Another important principle is informed consent, the idea that a patient or research subject must understand and freely choose a procedure they are undergoing.[248] Some of the most common complaints against clinical psychologists include sexual misconduct, and involvement in child custody evaluations.[248]

Other Animals

Current ethical guidelines state that using non-human animals for scientific purposes is only acceptable when the harm (physical or psychological) done to animals is outweighed by the benefits of the research.[249] Keeping this in mind, psychologists can use certain research techniques on animals that could not be used on humans.

An experiment by Stanley Milgram raised questions about the ethics of scientific experimentation because of the extreme emotional stress suffered by the participants. It measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience.[250]
Comparative psychologist Harry Harlow drew moral condemnation for isolation experiments on rhesus macaque monkeys at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in the 1970s.[251] The aim of the research was to produce an animal model of clinical depression. Harlow also devised what he called a “rape rack”, to which the female isolates were tied in normal monkey mating posture.[252] In 1974, American literary critic Wayne C. Booth wrote that, “Harry Harlow and his colleagues go on torturing their nonhuman primates decade after decade, invariably proving what we all knew in advance—that social creatures can be destroyed by destroying their social ties.” He writes that Harlow made no mention of the criticism of the morality of his work.[253]

The above video and transcript use material from the Wikipedia articles “Introduction to Psychology” and “Psychology“, which are released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.


  1. Introduction to Psychology. (n.d.). In Wikibooks. Retrieved August 13, 2020, from https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Introduction_to_Psychology
  2. Psychology. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved August 13, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychology

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