The Helsinki Declaration and the 3 ethical principles

So, we all know ethics are important.  I mean, without them we’d still have all kinds of dangerous experiments and practises going on like lobotomy’s!  So, this is why the Helsinki Declaration was founded in 1964, to protect the rights of humans, which can only be a good thing right?  I think this is right in a sense, but if we had always had such strict ethical principles, landmark experiments such as Milgram’s would never have been allowed to take place.  And in my opinion, experiments like his and Zimbardo’s told us more about Social Psychology than any other experiments.

So, what are the basic ethical principles?

The first one is ‘respect for the individual’ which I think s fairly important.  Respect is reciprocal, so if the experimenter shows respect to you, you are more likely to respect them and therefore are more likely to try your best during whichever tasks they ask you to do in their experiment.

The second one is ‘the right to make informed consent’  which I think is true, in theory.  Participants should have the right give their consent only when thy feel they have been thoroughly informed of the experimenters aims and what they will be doing during the experiment.  However, this is rarely the case.  Very rarely will an experimenter tell you the true aims of their study because then you know what they are testing and so might be tempted to perform either extremely well, or extremely poorly in attempt to skew the experiments results.

The third one is ‘the experimenters duty is solely to the participants or volunteer’ so, their welfare takes priority over that findings of the experiment.  It is the investigators duty to protect them and to pull them out of the experiment if they feel the experiment is affecting them in any way, be it physically or mentally.  This can be demonstrated by Zimbardo’s experiment in 1973 in which he pulled the plug on it after just six day due to the detrimental effects it was having on his participants  However this was not the same for Milgram’s experiment into obedience.  His participants showed acute signs of stress such as sweating or uncontrollable fits of laughter (not exactly fitting given the situation) and three participants even experienced seizures, however the experiment was not stopped

In conclusion, I think that ethics are important to a certain extent, however they cannot always be met fully if we want to produce scientific findings that are unbiased and reliable.




5 thoughts on “The Helsinki Declaration and the 3 ethical principles

  1. You have briefly gone over the ethical principles, which is great, but it would have been nice to know just how these principles have affected experiments since the declaration. For instance:

    In what way has the mentality towards such experiments changed? It would be nice if you could comment on mine to reference an experiment that was, in a sense, conservative in its methodology due to the changes?

    How has it affected the procedure of collecting data, in the sense that, do we feel obliged to say “Yes” to a participant, whereas before we may have turned that participant away?

    I don’t know much about this declaration myself, so it would be nice to learn a bit more about it.

  2. Firstly, Have they really stopped prefrontal lobotomy’s? I thought this was still in place in extreme cases? Secondly You sum up the Helsinki Convention very well using examples from Milgram and Zimbardo. I like the way you start the argument with “ethics can be a good thing, right?” then you go into the implications of the ethics, If you could of added some detail that would have been better ( i should have done it also) for example what happens when researchers don’t obey the principles? and do researchers in more far out countries have to obey these principles ? Apart from these points i think this is a well structured blog entry. Look forward to reading the next one.

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  4. There are many different points of view. You mention in your blog that if the ethical guidelines haven’t been introduced practices like lobotomy would still be carried on. Yes I must agree that in some countries it has been banned as soon as new neuroleptics were introduced. This was especially evident in Russia where the researchers concluded that lobotomy turns “an insane person into an idiot” (Portrayal of Lobotomy in the Popular Press: 1935–1960*. Retrieved 2009-10-17.). It has also been banned in many states of America, and other countries (Wood, Jeffrey C; Wood, Minnie (September 2008). “Chapter 9: Famously Failed Therapies”). The point is why was it banned? Because the new neuroleptics were introduced. How did researchers know that these were safe to use and how were they developed? Of course by testing participants. Can we be sure that this research was 100% ethical? We shall never find out.

  5. Pingback: Dear Shanti Here are the links to the comments I have made for week 3 Enjoy :) « kmusial

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