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 http://www.simplypsychology.org/zimbardo.html. 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 http://www.holah.karoo.net/milgramstudy.htm
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.