An examination of the use of BPS ethical guidelines in the teaching and learning of internet-mediated psychological research

This source preferred by Jacqui Taylor

Authors: Taylor, J.

Start date: 5 April 2004

The number of Internet-mediated research (IMR) studies in psychology are growing and likely to continue to grow at an ever-faster rate with predicted computing advances (Birnbaum, 2001). The Internet has made it easier for professional psychologists and psychology researchers and students to reach a larger and potentially more representative research sample. Also, it is easier to become a participant in research. However, the potential for unethical research is also increasing. Although there are established codes of ethical practice regarding the treatment of participants in ‘traditional’ research within disciplines such as psychology (BPS, 2000) and social research (RESPECT, 2003), it is clear that some researchers conducting IMR are failing to apply these guidelines. This paper examines the extent that ethics are considered in IMR and looks at the way that ethical guidelines are applied to IMR in undergraduate psychology courses.

This paper will discuss each of the ethical guidelines provided by the BPS and will focus on their relevance to IMR. Although it is clear that these guidelines are adhered to by the majority of research published in peer-reviewed journals (Klein, Clark & Herskovitz, 2003), examples will be shown in the area of computer-mediated communication research where this has not been the case. For example, the analysis of chat room transcripts without the informed consent of participants, unintentional and revealing postings by participants which cannot be removed and problems associated with anonymity in online discussion.

To date, there has been some discussion of ethical issues in IMR (e.g. Hewson, 2003), but ethical guidelines have yet to be considered fully by those involved in the teaching and learning of psychology and especially those supervising psychology projects. For example, a manual published this year for ethics committees Eckstein (2003) does not consider IMR. The intention of this paper is to stimulate discussion in this area and to propose some initial ethical guidelines for inclusion on undergraduate research methods courses covering internet-mediated psychological research.

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