Monday, 6 February 2017

COLLEGE ESSAYS In your own words, evaluate the importance of 2 ethical issues raised in psychological research with reference to a piece of research.

Ethics in research are very important when conducting an experiment. The ethics must be considered in all aspects of the research from planning to conducting, concluding and evaluating. There must be a cost-benefit-analysis. This means that the experimenter needs to decide if the ends justify the means.

The piece of research this essay will be looking at is the Stanford Prison Experiment conducted by Philip Zimbardo in 1973.

The experiment that Zimbardo carried out was because of the rise of brutal attacks by prison guards on prisoners in the 1960s. Zimbardo set up a “prison” in the basement of the psychology department Stanford University. The aim of the experiment was to see if people really had aggressive and sadistic personalities or whether the uniforms they wore gave them “power” therefore showing that their behaviour was a result of social influence. The experiment got out of had rather quickly and had to be disbanded 8 days early. Zimbardo found that those who were “guards” abused the power they were given at the expense of the “prisoners”. He also found that “prisoners” manipulated the “guards” by rioting thus causing the “guards” to retaliate.

One ethical issue here is the long term effect that this experiment had on the “guards” and the “prisoners” alike. With Zimbardo getting involved himself, there seemed to be no clear boundaries and people quickly lost sight of the experiment. Some of the participants were subjected to physical harm ie beatings and deprivation of basic rights such as mattresses as well as psychological harm from the verbal abuse and degradation from the “guards”. Some “guards” had not realised they were capable of such acts of abuse and therefore believed that they were in fact sadistic. To avoid the lasting psychological damage here, the students were all debriefed and informed that their actions were no worse than the actions of their fellow students.

Another ethical issue here is deception. The students did actually have the right to withdraw, however, Zimbardo managed to manipulate some students into believing they had no choice but to stay. This caused the “prisoners” to rebel against the “guards”. With Zimbardo participating in the experiment himself people were easily confused and he was able to manipulate the “guards” and the “prisoners” alike in order to provoke a desired reaction. A prisoner was replaced part way through the experiment and he was told to take part in a hunger strike in protest of the treatment of his fellow “prisoners”. The other “inmates” were not informed that this participant was actually a confederate and viewed him as a trouble maker.

It can be argued here that the means did not justify the ends as the participants were subjected to too much mental and physical harm. There was long term lasting damage to many participants and even after a debrief it can be argued that the participants will still have some lasting psychological damage long after the the physical harm has healed. It can also be argued that the experiment
cannot be applied to an actual prison as the participants in the experiment were playing their roles and acting up as might be expected. Also, the participants were all male. In prisons the guards are generally mixed sex.

With hindsight, Zimbardo would be able to see that his direct involvement in the experiment was somewhat dangerous as there was essentially no one keeping order and maintaining boundaries.

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