Social Influence Research - Do the Ends Justify the Means?

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Social Influence Research - Do the Ends Justify the Means?

To what extent does the importance of social influence research,

justify the methods used in its investigation?

The debate about ethics in psychology focuses on two areas: protection

of participants and benefiting society. This is a double obligation

dilemma as if some psychologists are not allowed to do certain

experiments because of ethical restraints; this can cause problems

with validity. In social psychology, these psychologists have an

obligation to use their research skills to advance our knowledge of

human behaviour, for the ultimate aim of human betterment.

Milgram’s study into obedience involved participants becoming a

‘teacher’ and applying an electric shock to the ‘learner’ (who was a

confederate) when they answered a word association question

incorrectly. The participant was not aware that the shocks they

administered were false and some believed they may have killed a man.

In this instance therefore, the code of conduct and ethical guidelines

published by the British Psychological Society (BPS) and American

Psychological Society (APS) in 1993 were broken in more than one way.

The participants’ right to withdraw was disabled as the prods given by

the experimenter (such as “please continue” etc) made the participants

feel that they had no choice but to continue. The were also involved

in deception as they thought they had administered real shocks and

were not informed of the confederate being present. This study,

however, was conducted in the 1950’s and the ethical guidelines were

not in position and therefore this study may be published in modern

day t...

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case. For example, there was only one prisoner who tried to resist and

went on a hunger strike. When he was put into solitary confinement the

others were allowed to release him by means of giving up their

blankets. They refused. They saw they situation as every man for

themselves. Another benefit to society was also the impression this

experiment left on the prison system in America at the time, and some

aspects of this were changed as a result.

Therefore in conclusion, in these two experiments alone, the unethical

methods used can be justified as they have helped to profit humanity

by providing insight into how humans behave when put into certain

social situations. Without these ethical guidelines being broken, both

experiments would have lacked ecological validity and the results

would not be legitimate.
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