Ethical research


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The American Psychological Association (APA) defines ethics as the“standards that members of a profession must follow” (,2015). The association further provides a layout of the standardsthat all professional psychologists must adhere to, and outlinespunishments for failure. Sections of the code include clinicalpractice, research and publication. The guidelines by the APA,alongside five principles for research ethics, guide theprofessionals in the field of psychology as they conduct theirresearchers. Besides professionalism, there are several other reasonsas to why ethics have to be adhered to in research, such as theprotection of the participant’s interests and promotion of the aimsof the research. Similarly, Hanson &amp Kerkhoff (2011) say thatethic conduct helps in the promotion of competence as a corecomponent in research. In the long run, adhering to the ethical codeof conduct improves the standards of practice and enhance evolutionof the field. This paper looks at the application of the ethical codeof conduct in a research whose population is children with obesity.


Hanson &amp Kerkhoff (2011) discuss the application of the APAethical principles as a foundation of competency, as applied torehabilitation psychology. The central view of their discussion isthe inclusion of ethics in the foundational competency axis, whichfor a long time has been used to set benchmarks and subcomponents inpractice. According to them, the competency is entrenched in the CubeModel, whose three axes are foundational competencies, functionalcompetencies and developmental progression. Based on this, Hanson &ampKekhoff (2011) identify a number of associated challenges, whichinclude addressing reliable and valid assessment, creation of aculture of acceptance and gaining positive consensus. A discussion ofthe challenges leads to the proposal of ethical principles as analternative framework for foundational competency in practice, whichis to be applied at training and postdoctoral levels.

Inpsychological research, regardless the level of adherence of thefoundational competencies, there is always a complication whendealing with the issue of informed consent. Cervo et al. (2013)discuss about an effective way of promoting informed consent inclinical practice. They acknowledge that there is a problem whendealing with vulnerable populations, such as terminally ill patients.As such, Cervo et al. (2013) designed a multisource informed consentprocedure to help improve cancer patients’ understanding of themedical procedures being used on them and the meaning of theirparticipation in treatment research. Findings from their researchindicated that only 35.5% satisfactorily understood the details ofmedical studies in which they were participants, and that those withlittle formal education were the least informed (Cervo et al., 2013).Based on this, they concluded that the multisource informed consentinformation system would help professionals in improving the levelsof informed consent of the participants, regardless of theireducational level or social status.

While Flicker et al. (2007) consent to the above discussions,adding that the current ethical regulations have progressedover the past several years. Given this, he identified the roleplayed by the Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) in psychologicalresearch, which plays an instrumental role in defining the ethicalconduct and professionalism in clinical application. It is mandatoryfor all researchers, prior to conducting the research, to obtainapproval form institutions where the research is to be conducted. Theinstitutions, after reviewing the applications, consider theinstitutional commitment and the code of conduct, amongst a number ofsimilar factors, to either allow or decline the request. Flicker etal. (2007) say that this is an important development in psychologicalresearch, because it helps to regulate the manner in whichindependent studies are conducted, and give further advice on issuesthat may arise.

Toadd to this, Nagy (2011) discusses the issue of privacy,confidentiality and privileged communication in clinical psychology,by using an example of an elderly man being cancelled for depression.He says that one of the major ingredients of work for psychologistsis maintaining privacy and confidentiality. This helps to manage thepatient’s mental conditions and safeguard their privacy interests.According to Nagy (2011), Flicker et al. (2007) and Illess &ampKirschen (2014), privacy is the relationship between thepsychologists and the clients. On the other hand, confidentialitydeals with the safeguarding of the information gathered by thepsychologist, which directly affects the client. Thirdly, privilegedcommunication is the legal right of an individual to have informationconcerning them to be communicated whenever asked for. These threecomponents of ethical conduct of research were among the very firstto be discussed by the APA.




Accordingto the APA regulations, it is mandatory for a researcher or conductsa comprehensive risk assessment before commencing the actual research(Nagy, 2011, 2015, Flicker et al., 2007). As such, two riskassessments will be done, both detailing the key risks forinstitutions that will be involved in this research. The first one isreputational damage. While identifying the participants for the‘children with obesity ‘research, the researcher will conduct anassessment to evaluate three major aspects of reputational damage.The first one will be an evaluation of the possible damage to thepublic perception of the hospitals where the obese children will beaccessed. Given that the findings of the research may be made public,the researcher will conduct an analysis of possible reputational harmof the facility hosting the study. Secondly, an assessment of thepossible reputational damage of the financier of the research will beconducted. Factors to be considered include the quality of theresearch and completion of the whole project within stipulatedtimeline and budget. Finally, issues that may lead to reputationaldamage of the research community will be looked into. Given thenature of the study, there may be possible incidences of datafabrication, which is a reputational harm in the field ofpsychological research.

Secondly,a legal risk assessment will be conducted. One of the main concernswhen dealing with the research participants is a breach of the dutyof care. This may definitely lead to a legal suit against theresearcher, the hosting institution or both. According to Sikes &ampPiper (2013), it is common for the mentioned parties to be sued forinsurance claims and such, as the research process may involvealtering the insurance details as outlined in the contracts betweenthe client and insurance bodies. At the same time, the research willconduct a financial risk assessment to ascertain whether it will bepossible to compete the research within the budget agreed between theresearcher and the financier. Sikes &amp Piper (2013 say that suchresearch contracts are agreed between the researcher and hostinginstitution. Given this, the researcher will have to bear theresponsibility if the deliverables are not met.


TheInstitutional Review Board is mandated with reviewing researchproposals that may involve vulnerable populations, such as theelderly and children (Knapp et al., 2012). Children who willparticipate in this research fall under the category of thevulnerable groups, as described by the Institutional Review Board.Whilst recruiting minors, it is expected on the researcher to obtaininformed consent from the parents or any other legal guardians, andobtain informed consent from the children. As such, the researcherwill meet the parent of the children and explain to them the natureand details of the research, and do the same with the children. Itwill be made clear that the research process and its findings are keyelements of treatment of the condition, because the information is tobe shared amongst professionals in health and psychology.

Atthe same time, an IRB would expect extra measures when theparticipants to be involved in the research fall under the “special”category (Knapp et al., 2012). The special category includes AmericanIndians and children lacking financial resources, amongst others. Inthis case, the participants will fall under the special categorybased on experiencing social stigmas. Obesity is one of the moststigmatized conditions in the country, and as such, there are severalethical issues that are involved when engaging the victims. Accordingto the official APA website, there are some potential ethical issuesthat a researcher may violate (, 2015). The nature of thisparticular research may involve such incidences. As such, it isrecommended that a research instrument such as the MacArthursCompetence Assessment Tool for Treatment be used as an extra measurewhen dealing with this research’s population.

Rightsof participants

Illess&amp Kirschen (2014) and Sike &amp Piper (2013) assert that anethical research is one which take into considerations the rights ofthe participants, which entails among other tasks, upholdingconfidentiality of data and avoiding causing harm to theparticipants. This research will involve collection of highlyconfidential data, such as medical background information and presentmedical condition information. As such, the information will becollected from the participants anonymously. However, some actions byresearchers with the objective of collecting data anonymously haveled to some complicated ethical issues, such as the case of Dr. Bell,as described by Nagy (2011). In this research, the doctor usedtelephone calls over face-to-face interviews to collect data, hopingthat it would be more private. However, socioeconomic factors of theparticipants did not favor this method. As such, while consideringthe method of data collection, the researcher will consider a numberof factors that may provide loopholes.

Atall times, researchers must ensure that they do not cause harm,either intentional or unintentional, to the research participants(Stark, 2011 Illess &amp Kirschen, 2014). The major type of harm inthis research will be mental harm. When dealing with obese children,given the social perception of their condition, it is possible causeembarrassment and lowers their self-confidence. As such, theresearcher shall engage in pre-research counselling and let thechildren know that their condition should not be cause ofembarrassment, as it is manageable and treatable. Knapp et al. (2012)say that researchers may not always be in the position of accuratelypredicting the behavior and reactions of the participants, and assuch, therapeutic debriefing may be necessary. This will be appliedto control any participants who may be disturbed by the research.


Inthis research scenario, the concept of informed concept will berelated with confidentiality. This is because the children, alongsidetheir guardians, will have to be made aware in the early stages ofthe research that their information will be kept highly confidential.Despite this fact, it will be upon the researcher to ensure that theparticipants understand the informed consent. According to the APA,the psychologists have the responsibility of giving detailedinformation to the participants regarding the informed consent(, 2015 Stark, 2011). The researcher in this case will takethe participants through a discussion to explain the limits ofconfidentiality of the information, and make them aware that thirdparties without further approval from them may use the information.Similarly, the researcher will explain to the participants that theresearch may be terminated if there are any ethical issues that mayarise while doing the study.

Thereare three major components of informed consent involved in thisresearch. The first one is a statement of the extent to whichconfidentiality of the records identifying the participant will bemaintained. If necessary, information about their age, sex andmedical background may be given out to relevant professionals inresearch. Secondly, given the nature of the participant’sconditions, a statement that participation is voluntary will benecessary. This will be to let them know that there is no penaltythat will be involved with refusal to participate. Finally, therewill be a statement describing any reasonable foreseeable risksassociated with participation, such as discomfort in answering thequestions.


Oneof the safeguards to be put in place to ensure that the literature isaccurately reported in the study is ensuring that critical analysisis conducted for every piece of work used. Stark (2011) Bossuyt etal, (2003) assert this, saying that a detailed analysis enables theresearcher to point out any inconsistencies in the information. Thiswill involve making a comparison of items and how they relate witheach other. For instance, should one author present contrastingarguments to the findings of another research, there will be deeperresearch into the implication of their findings and consequentanalysis of their accuracy. At the same time, all information to bereported will have to within the scope of the study. For ethicalreasons, only publications, which contain relevant informationrelated to the issue of this particular research, will be used. Assuch, the researcher will avoid covering areas that are outside thescope of research.

Bossuytet al (2003) say that inaccurate reporting of literature review is acommon misdoing of many researchers. One of the negative impacts ofinaccurately reported reviews on the public is that the writer’scredibility will be questioned, and as such, the public may not gethelpful information from the author in future publications (Bossuytet al, 2003). At the same time, the integrity of specialists in thefield will be spoilt, as findings from other similar researches maynot be used with confidentiality.


Thefive general principles of ethics are beneficence, non-maleficence,fidelity, responsibility, integrity, justice, and respect forpeople’s rights and dignity (Coterill &amp Symes, 2014 Hanson &ampKarkhoff, 2011 Stark, 2011). In the future, I plan to be involved inmental health care and consulting, all which are greatly influencedby the mentioned principles. Thorough my doctoral studies, I havecome across a number of professional researches which have describedthe application of these principles in practical and clinicalapplication. Most of the pertinent ethical issues are repeatedlymentioned in the professional publications, which has made mefamiliarize with them adequately. My role as a professional in thementioned areas will allow me to uphold the five tenets of ethics byvirtual of handing me the responsibility of handling clientinformation, giving professional advice and being part of the globalprofessional psychological team. Additionally, membership to the APAwill place me in a position of promoting ethical conduct in research,as well as mentoring upcoming psychologists in the field.

Iwill choose committee members with whom I have worked in the pastduring my studies. The reason of doing this is that communicationbetween them and myself will be easier than with instructors withwhom I have never worked with before. At the same time, I shall bemaking regular visits to the committee members an asking them foradvise on the progress of my project, as this will help in gatheringpositive criticism. At the same time, I acknowledge that there may bedisputes along the way, which may lead to conflicts. Should thishappen, I shall seek to solve any methodological or theoreticalconflicts that may be causing misunderstanding by going back to theproject and discussing any loose points. As well, keeping in contactwith the committee members’ previous students will help me tounderstand their expectations and thus be sufficiently prepared toface them.


Successfulcompletion of the thesis will depend on two main factors. These areethical conduct of the research and professionalism in the field. Assuch, it is recommended that continuous reference be made to theexisting literature on the ethical conduct of psychological research,and at the same time, appropriate consultations be made. Secondly, itis recommended that a researcher strictly follow the APA code ofconduct, especially on matters dealing with unintentional violationof the regulations. Given that some of the rules contain manydetails, making consultations with professional researchers will helpthis research to be conducted in a manner that conforms to theexpectations of the association. Finally, it is recommended thatpersonal effort be made to point out any ethical issues that may beunique to this research, for the purposes of documenting them toimprove the general standards of practice.


Allresearches have to follow the professional code of conduct asprovided by the APA. The main aim of doing this is to upholdprofessionalism and ethics in the field, as means of conductingpositive researches. While the APA outlines the regulations andguidelines to be followed, it additionally gives advice on how toencounter challenges and the possible remedies to avoid punishment.Similarly, it is up to the researchers to make individual effort toensure that they conduct their studies ethically, to benefit theparticipants, institutions and the field itself. While studentsconducting their doctoral researches for the first time may use therecommendations of the APA, referring to other studies conducted byprofessionals helps in increasing the standards of their studies.This also helps them to be able to present the findings of literaturereviews in a coherent and reliable way, at the same time makinguseful comparisons to avoid unethical reporting.

References (2015). Ethics. Retrieved on 11 July 2015 from:

Bossuyt, P.M., Reitsma, J.B., Bruns, D.E., Gatsonis, C.A., Glasziou,P.P., Irwig, L.M., Lijmer, J.G., Moher, D., Rennie, D. &amp de Vet,H.C.W. (2003). Towards complete and accurate reporting of diagnosticsaccuracy: The STARD initiative. Oxfor Journals: Medicine andHealth. 21(1): 4-10.

Cervo, S., Rovina, J., Talamini, R., Perin, T., Canzonieri, V., DePaoli, P., &amp Steffan, A. (2013). An effective multisourceinformed consent procedure for research and clinical practice: anobservational study of patient understanding and awareness of theirroles as research stakeholders in a cancer biobank. BMC MedicalEthics, 1430. doi:10.1186/1472-6939-14-30

Flicker, S., Travers, R., Guta,A., McDonald, S., &amp Meagher, A. (2007). Ethical dilemmas incommunity-based participatory research: Recommendations forinstitutional review boards.&nbspJournalof Urban Health,&nbsp84(4),478-493.

Hanson, S. L., &amp Kerkhoff, T. R. (2011). The APA EthicalPrinciples as a foundational competency: Application torehabilitation psychology. Rehabilitation Psychology, 56(3),219-230. doi:10.1037/a0024206

Illes, J., &amp Kirschen, M.P. (2014, March). Ethically speaking:Unexpected findings. APA Monitor, 45 (3): 54-56

Knapp, S. J., Gottlieb, M. C.,Handelsman, M. M., &amp VandeCreek, L. D. (2012). APAhandbook of ethics in psychology, Vol 1: Moral foundations and commonthemes. AmericanPsychological Association.

Nagy, T. F. (2011). Ethics in research and publication. In T.F. Nagy,Essential ethics for psychologists: A primer for understanding andmastering core issues (pp. 199-216). American PsychologicalAssociation. doi:10.1037/12345-011

Sikes, P., &amp Piper, H.(2013).&nbspEthicsand academic freedom in educational research.Routledge.

Stark, C. (2011). The application of the Canadian Code of Ethics forPsychologists to teaching: Mandatory self-disclosure and alternativesin psychology courses. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne,52(3), 192-197. doi:10.1037/a0024546