11 Pros and Cons of Deception in Psychological Research

11 Pros and Cons of Deception in Psychological Research

The pros and cons of deception in psychological research represents an extremely complex subject. On the surface, we are tempted to reject the notion of deception in psychological research outright. However, as you are going to discover, things are not as simple as deferring to that opinion each and every single time.

What Is Deception In Psychological Research?

When it comes to the concept of research, there is no question that ethics is one of the most essential components there is. This is certainly true for all forms of psychological research. The need for ethics in psychological research is extremely high. Most of us understand this fact. However, there are going to be times in which ethics as we understand the concept in broad terms is going to be subject to a certain degree of manipulation. In terms of psychological research, this manipulation is essential to a certain degree.

Without question, when it comes to psychological or sociological experiments, there are going to be situations in which you do not want the subject to know everything. In order for the experiment to be effective and meaningful, you are going to want to keep certain things from the patient at certain times during the experiment. Obviously, this is a form of deception. Is it an essential form of deception? It can be.

But while deception may be essential in certain aspects of psychological research, the topic of ethics in this branch of research remains a hot topic of discussion. New discoveries are being made about our minds, seemingly every day. We have to keep this in mind, and we have to also consider the notion that deception in psychological research is capable of causing harm, unintentional or otherwise. Doctors and psychology groups throughout the world are constantly reexamining and updating their ethical codes, and there’s a reason for that. While we want to acknowledge the value of a certain degree of deception within certain research projects, we also want to constantly consider the pros and cons of deception in psychological research.

As you can imagine, weighing the pros and cons of deception in psychological or sociological research can certainly make for complicated discussions.

The Pros Of Deception In Psychological Research

If you want to study some examples of deception in psychological research, look into the Stanford Prison Experiment, in addition to the BBC follow-up. You will also want to do some reading on the Piliavin and Piliavin Experiment.

And as you study those particular examples of deception in psychological research, consider the following pros of deception in psychological research:

1. Deception is necessary
With at least some of the psychological experiments being conducted, a certain degree of deception is absolutely essential to generating the kind of results that will make the entire endeavor meaningful. Accuracy and validity are obviously cornerstones to any psychological research project. Without deception on at least some level, it is difficult to imagine certain experiments reaching optimal levels of both validity and accuracy.

2. The intentions are generally good
While this may not sound like much of a pro, it’s important to understand that deception in psychological research is not an inherently evil concept. While there are most definitely examples of deception being used to evil extremes, the truth of the matter is that for the most part, the intentions behind the use of deception are good.

3. The ends really can justify the means sometimes
If you consider the vast history of breakthroughs achieved through psychological research project, you’re talking about significant gains in our desire to fully understand and nurture the human mind. Deception has been a component to many of those experiments. Sometimes, that deception runs to a level that makes many people uncomfortable. Still, consider the breakthroughs. Do the ends justify the means? Many believe that they do.

4. The ethics of psychological research are never complacent
What this means is that the concept of ethics as they specifically apply to deception in psychological research is not something that is static, or incapable of evolution. Because the concept of deception in psychological research is such a sensitive, complex topic, it is something that researchers and associations alike are constantly striving to examine and improve. Simply put, if you compare the ethics within psychological research to the ethics practiced in psychological research fifty or even twenty years ago, you will notice a marked difference.

5. A lack of deception can sometimes ruin everything
Depending on what the research is trying to accomplish, giving patients everything in the way of information from the very start of the project can dramatically change the results of the project. In some cases, it can completely ruin the whole point of the research.

6. A universal approach to ethics is unrealistic
The demands of one research project can be completely different from the demands of another research project. Applying universal, iron-clad ethics that demand full disclosure right from the beginning might be fine for certain research projects, but it could prove to be highly problematic for other projects.

These are some of the more obvious pros of deception in psychological research. However, the pros do not paint a complete picture by any means.

Cons Of Deception In Psychological Research

There is obviously some good to be found in utilizing deception in psychological research. However, there are some cons that should be taken into account, as well:

1. Even the best of intentions can go horribly wrong
The problem with deception in psychological research is that even when researchers go into the project with the very best of intentions, there is some potential for harm to the patients. One of the most interesting components to many of the worst examples of the consequences of deception is the fact that in many cases, malice was the furthest thing from the mind of those responsible for the project.

2. The potential for abuse still exists
Unfortunately, even with stringent ethics in place, it is possible for an individual or even a group to intentionally abuse the concept of deception in psychological research.

3. The risk factors remain
Even under the best of circumstances, there is still a risk potential with virtually all research projects that utilize some form of deception. There are psychological risks to consider, in addition to social risks and more. The potential risk factor can vary in seriousness from one project to the next, but there is no getting around the fact that the risk potential exists in virtually all psychological research projects.

4. Does knowledge truly create a bias?
Some believe that only in the most extreme circumstances would full disclosure create a bias that could damage the validity of the study.

5. The morality of the whole concept is extremely complex
At the end of the day, there is simply no getting around the fact that we are talking about a highly complex moral concept. For some, it is simply impossible to come to a satisfactory answer, which makes some interested in eliminating deception from the research project model altogether.

In Conclusion

As you can see from this list of the pros and cons of deception in psychological research, there is really no such thing as a simple answer. With that thought in mind, it is your responsibility to weigh the pros and cons carefully, before deciding for yourself.