Let’s Look at this Ethically…

When considering the importance of ethics within the realms of research, it must first be made clear exactly what ethics is and how we define it within society. Ethics is a rather subjective term with no distinct boundaries in regards to it’s definition. Consequently this can result in many differing interpretations depending on the individual however, most commonly, can be identified as a set of widely-agreed moral principles that aid in distinguishing between what is right and what is wrong (McCutcheon, 2015). Ethics can be classified in either professional terms, such as ethical codes of conduct within a business or institution, or merely in regards to out own personal moral standards which we often adopt in particular social settings such as at home, at school or at church (Resnik 2011). As a result of this definition transparency, principles and standards of ethics vary according to the discipline they are conducted in, whether it be business, government, law, medicine, and, more to the topic, research. Ethics in research can ‘ensure the researcher is ‘doing the right thing’ by the project, it’s participants and society at large'(Weerakkody 2008, p.73) and as chief priority, should cover five important stages:

  1. Design
  2. Data Collection
  3. Data Analysis
  4. Reporting of Findings
  5. Publication

However, an unfortunate truth is that the development of research has been constructed on shocking and disastrous violations of moral human values, resulting in many ethical issues. More specifically, is the 1971 case of ‘The Stanford Prison Experiment’. Psychologist, Philip Zimbardo and his associates aimed to further expand on Stanley Milgrim’s obedience experiment by analysing the behaviours and reactions of individuals when assigned particular roles and power dynamics in social situations. In order to test this, Zimbardo attempted to replicate a prison environment in the basement of the Department of Psychology in Stanford University, California. During this simulation, 24 male students who had no criminal background, psychological issues or any major medical conditions, were randomly assigned to either the role of a prisoner or a prison guard for a period of two weeks (Cherry, 2010). In true commitment, police were directed to publicly apprehend the student ‘suspects’ and sent to ‘jail’ where they were exposed to strip searches, ankle chains and other distressing procedures while ‘guards’ were instructed to proceed with constant, continual acts of authority over the ‘prisoners’ (Weerakkody 2008, p.75). ‘..guards began to harass prisoners. They behaved in a brutal and sadistic manner, apparently enjoying it…One prisoner had to be released after 36 hours because of uncontrollable bursts of screaming, crying and anger.’ (McLeod, 2008). What the results showed was that people can follow to the stereotypical social norms they are required to play without hesitation, emphasising the dangers of blindly conforming to a role of power and authority. What was worrying ethically, was exposing these young men to mental and physical trauma which had the potential to lead to long-term effects for research purposes. Even converting happy, healthy, strong, young men into aggressive, dictating tyrants rang ethical alarm bells. Despite the anticipated two week time period, unsurprisingly, the brutality of the guards and the intense suffering of the prisoners lead to the termination of the experiment after a mere six days (BBC Prison Study, 2008), emphasising the vital importance of ethics within the field of research.

BMAPify 2013, ‘Zimbardo Prison Experiment (shortened clip), Youtube, youtube.com, viewed 16 April 2015, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GePFFf5gRKo&gt;

Cherry, K 2010, ‘The Stanford Prison Experiment’, About Education, about.com, viewed 15 April 2015,<http://psychology.about.com/od/classicpsychologystudies/a/stanford-prison-experiment.htm&gt;

Jarrett, C 2014, ‘1. The Stanford Prison Experiment’, The 10 Most Controversial Psychology Studies Ever, The British Psychological Society, bps.org.uk, viewed 15 April 2015, <http://digest.bps.org.uk/2014/09/the-10-most-controversial-psychology.html&gt;

McCutcheon, M 2015, ‘Lecture 3 Research Ethics’, BCM210 Researches¬†Practice in Media and Communication, powerpoint slides, University of Wollongong, viewed 15th of April.

McLeod, S 2008, ‘Zimbardo – Stanford Prison Experiment’, Simply Psychology, simplypsychology.org, viewed 15 April 2015, <http://www.simplypsychology.org/zimbardo.html&gt;

Resnik, D.B 2011, ‘What is Ethics in Research & Why is it Important?’, Research, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, nih.gov, viewed 15 April 2015, <http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/resources/bioethics/whatis/&gt;

The BBC Prison Study 2008, ‘Background: The Stanford Prison Experiment’, The Study, bbcprisonstudy.org, viewed 15 April 2015, <http://www.bbcprisonstudy.org/bbc-prison-study.php?p=17&gt; Weerakkody, N 2008, ‘Research ethics in media and communication’, Research Methods for Media and Communications, Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand, South Melbourne, Vic., pp. 73-75, viewed 15 April 2015, <https://tr.uow.edu.au/uow/file/673e82a9-ad8b-4240-a296-141f9ba56f74/1/weerakkodyn2.pdf&gt;


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