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The
prevalence of deception is something that has been of great debate for many
years, tackling the question of whether or not it is moral or ethical. Psychological
experiments specifically geared towards human participants often use a form of
deception in order to reach a certain outcome that may otherwise not be obtained.
In order to understand the background of this phenomenon and where each argument
is coming from, deception itself must be defined. Simply put, deception is anything
said or done with the purpose of misleading or misinforming others to get a
reaction. Today, there are still two opposing sides to the idea of deceiving
for a study; those for and those against. As in the readings, a few of the
explanation ideas included the ratio of harm and benefits, the meaning of debriefing,
and the rights of the participant. While these topics fall on two completely
differing ends of the spectrum, there are certain topics that make appearances in
both opinions.

            With the debate on ethics still occurring,
many writers and psychologists have published works explaining their reasoning
behind an opinion. One such psychologist, Elms, makes the statement that he is
on the side of using deception, however, not as an extremist stance, but rather
close to the middle. Something of great importance that is talked about in Elms’
article is the point made about not having an effective alternative to
deception. At first glance, it is easy to tell that deceiving someone can
almost always have a possibility of causing some kind of harm or stress. With this
is mind, it should never be the first option for a study. There are other types
of tests that can take place, such as simply asking a question and receiving an
answer, or asking for a task to be completed and observing. However, as Elms
says, this is not going to be very effective. If the subject knows exactly what
is being looked at, for example, a specific behavior, they will most likely
change that behavior for the better.  Even
further, they may want to skew the results or even try to act as they think the
researcher is expecting. In order to create a setup that will mimic real life
reactions, some form of deception may be needed for the sheer purpose of experimental
control.

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            Another good point that Elms brings
up is the difference in potential harms and benefits. The reason most, if not
all, studies are created is to somehow better society’s knowledge or introduce an
advantage. One consequence that results of this, is with every advancement
comes harm on one level or another. On the supporting side of deception, if the
outcome is greater than the harm, it is ethical. There are instances where the
projected benefits would not necessarily outweigh the harm done on a potential
participant. In these cases, the use of deception is not ethical and should not
be used. The fine line is drawn when there is a large amount of harm, yet a
large potential for great benefits. Judging from the rest of Elms’ ideas, this
would not be considered very ethical. The only way any of this can work is if
the participant is able to drop out or quit at any time.

            On the opposing side is psychologist
Baumrind, who does not believe in deception being ethical. One of the main issues
talked about with deceit is the harm placed upon the participant. After being
deceived or tricked, the participant may feel as if they have been blatantly lied
to, and that mistrust can resurface when someone in their personal lives
engages in withholding of truth. After the study is said and done, those who
participated may not be able to trust themselves to an extent because they know
they believed the lies in the lab, so what else in their life is a lie? This is
exactly the behavior that Baumrind is warning against in her views that
deceiving should not be part of psychological studies.

            The second point made is on the topic
of debriefing. Debriefing is the something that takes place at the end of a research
study. Between the participant and the researcher, the entire study is
overviewed and talked about in full. All aspects of the true nature or purpose
are revealed. The argument for why this doesn’t make deceiving ethical is
that it doesn’t change what is already done. The participants may feel a little
bit better, knowing the true reason behind everything, but they are still
subject to the mistrust. During the study itself, the participants thought
everything that was happening was believable and true. Without actually
participating in something that could cause harm to someone else, we don’t know
personally the effects that can have on a person’s image of themselves, which
is the explanation given for Baumrind’s position.  

            As for the side I mostly agree with,
I think Baumrind’s argument and writing style was more effective, but I would
have to agree with Elms. I don’t necessarily think deception is ethical,
however, I do think that it is definitely justifiable, unlike Baumrind who thought
it to be unacceptable. With guidelines set in place of benefits outweighing
consequences, an exhaustion of other effective methods, debriefing, and the right
to withdraw, I think in certain cases deception is perhaps needed. On the other
side of it never being ethical, the point was made that people may develop a
fear before even going into a study or after the study as well. While this is
true, its not something that should get rid of deception all together. If there
is a thought that you don’t want to be tricked, or you are scared of being lied
to, then simply don’t participate in the study in the first place. When signing
up for a study, it should be known that it is for some kind of behavioral research,
and therefore will most likely test your situational reactions. So, if all
guidelines are in place, participants have the right to quit at any time, and
the study is controlled, I think deception can be used after other options are
tried first.

            In today’s society, this topic is
very relevant, both on the scientific side as well as the social side. Under
the APA guidelines, deception is still ethical, so studies must still be
happening today. In the articles, an example was given of Milgram’s studies and
how it gave results that were comparable to the Holocaust. With this in place,
there are sure to be other recent studies with certain generations and the
effects of the time periods. On the more social side of things, deception is
definitely a commonality today. From little white lies to the complete hiding
of something important, people can deceive and cherry pick what information to
give out and what to disclose from others to gain a specific response or
reaction. While you don’t necessarily think of this everyday occurrence to be something
of such large debate in scientific or psychological terms, it most definitely
is, and will most likely stay that way. 

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