The use of Deception in Research

Subject: Psychology
Type: Informative Essay
Pages: 2
Word count: 561
Topics: Social Psychology, Cognitive Psychology

In their work, Bortolotti and Mameli (2006), put forward arguments against and for the use of deception in research. They gave the following reasons why they thought the use of deception in research was not ethical. To begin with, they argued that it causes significant psychological harm to the participants and such harm could not be justified. Secondly, the use of deception violates the personal autonomy of the participants. Lastly, they pointed out that it also undermines the public trust and makes researchers corrupt. 

Supporting the use of deception, Bortolotti and Mameli (2006) argued the following. Firstly, the use of deception in research could be used to uncover human behavior and have the power to change or control discrimination in the society. Secondly, they argued that deception in research can promote the autonomy of participants through obtaining information about participants’ tendencies. It enables them to make their independent decisions as well as understanding those factors that may affect their decision-making processes. Lastly, they concluded that methodological deception could be used to achieve reliable results because they bring out moral lessons on the subject under investigation.

Why is the use of Deception in Research good?

Burger replicated Milgram’s study and through using deception in research tried to achieve ethics by not putting the participants in unnecessary distress. The study provided evidence that people differences could be experienced even today, in the same manner, is many years ago.

The study by Burger shows how obedience works through the use of deception in research and this is important and could be applied in increasing obedience in various settings and learning institutions.

Secondly, as presented by Stanley Milgram, I think the use of deception is ethical because they enable the participants to identify habitual behaviors and routines that may have an adverse effect on them (Milgram, 1963). Through knowing, the participants will be in a position to avoid such harm in the future. It makes their tendency of obeying the authority to increase and help them to be in control of their decisions when confronted with authority (Lunt, 2009). 

Thirdly, through raising widespread consciousness within the public domain, people will be more transparent and will make the authority to account for any of their actions and thus have a greater public good. 

Fourthly through using deception, people could be tested using locus of control, and this could help the researchers in the identification of people who are most likely to be disobedient. For instance, people who have strong urge to be in control always are less likely to follow orders.

Why is the use of deception in research unethical?

The use of deception could bring harm to the participants as argued by Milgram and Burger. The use of deception could increase social pressure on the participants, and this could also affect the results of the research being conducted.

Secondly, deceiving participants and lack of participant’s consent could expose them to unethical practices that may cause a lot of pain to them. People who have emotional issue could be greatly affected by deception and may cause lack of trust between the experimenter and the participants. When the participants realize that the researcher has used unethical means of obtaining information about them, they will be less likely to trust the researcher, and this could compromise on the quality of the study.

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  1. Bortolotti, L & Mameli, M. (2006). Deception in psychology: Moral costs and benefits of unsought self-knowledge. Accountability in Research, 13(3), 259–275.
  2. Burger, J. M (2009). Replicating Milgram. Would people still obey today? American Psychologist, 64(1), 1–11.
  3. Lunt, P. K. (2009). Stanley Milgram: Understanding obedience and its implications. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
  4. Milgram, S., (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. The Journal of abnormal and social psychology, 67(4), 371-378.
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