Exploring the Ethics and Psychological Impact of Deception in Psychological Research

Renewed concerns regarding the possible harm of deceptive methods in psychological research have led to increased attention to this topic, with some IRBs placing significant restrictions on the implementation of deceptive techniques. The purpose of this study was to examine the psychological impact of certain elements of deception in psychological research. The study looked at three types of deception: deceptive task instructions, false feedback, and unprofessional experimenter conduct. Results indicated that task deception and false feedback were not detrimental to participants’ mood or trust in psychological researchers, but that the researcher’s unprofessional behavior was. These findings suggest that the presumed risk of deceptive methods should be reevaluated, and that a greater emphasis should be placed on experimenter professionalism and appropriate researcher training and oversight.

Key words/concepts: human subjects research, research ethics, deception in research, research methods, researcher professionalism, institutional review boards

Marcella H. Boynton, David B. Portnoy, and Blair T. Johnson, “Exploring the Ethics and Psychological Impact of Deception in Psychological Research,” IRB: Ethics & Human Research 35, no. 2 (2013): 7-13.