“There are no circumstances in which deception is acceptable if there is a reasonable expectation that physical pain or emotional distress will be caused.” (Howitt & Cramer, 2011, p.151). Despite this, there are situations where deception can be used. It depends on the value of the research, for instance, if it has scientific or educational value then the use of deception may be taken into account. Before an ethics boards would accept this method, they would make sure that there were no other avenues in which deception could be avoided. It may also be important to get the opinion of an independent researcher, that way researcher bias can be eliminated, or at least reduced.
If the research is then given the go ahead, the psychologist must then reveal the deception to the participant as soon as available. This is likely to be in a debrief form, explaining why they were debriefed and give them the opportunity to withdraw their data. If the participant is not entirely happy that the deception has occurred then the research must then be put on hold until a further review in conducted. Fortunately ethics boards have emplaced guidelines and restrictions to the degree that deception can be used. However throughout psychology, deception has played a key role. For instance, Loftus’ eyewitness testimony experiment. In which participants sat outside a laboratory, when a loud noise occurs, and a scientist sweating and holding a pen, and the other condition where the scientist comes out holding a bloody knife. Participants were then asked to identify the scientists. This study will have caused anxiety to the participants, however if the aim was outlined from the beginning, the participants will not have been subjected to the ‘weapons effect’.
Another study that demonstrates deception would be Milgrams’ study, (which everyone knows about so I won’t go into detail). The participants may have suffered from anxiety and minor psychological harm. However the findings of the study, I believe far outweighed the possibility of harm to the participant. In addition the harm could be resolved through a counselling session. This view point may seem somewhat unsympathetic, however, Christensen (2012) argues that deception is not as unacceptable as it is made out. Christensen states that participants enjoy deception experiments more than non-deception experiments. They received more educational benefit from the research and did not mind being deceived or having their privacy breached. Christensen concludes in favour of continuing deception in studies.
I am also in favour of deception in studies, certainly from a SONA participant view, the studies are much more interesting when there is something to it, other than pressing buttons. I agree with BPS etc that pain and emotional distress should be minimised, however if the ends justifies the means as in Milgrams’ study, I think it should be acceptable.