Need for an Ethical Code

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct was established to direct and provide guidance to psychologists surrounding the implications of important decisions, client and professional relationships, research, teaching, and publication. The Code of Ethics attempts to unify the gap between what s moral and applied practice (Drogin, 2019). 

Morality is often based on a dominant cultural idea or governing mindset. This goes without saying that philosophical ideals differ between cultures. This is most evident when discussing eastern and western medicine and philosophy (Sundararajan, 2019). Differences in cultural beliefs and customs impact the concept of what is right and wrong; and dive the premise of a collective cultural moral compass.

The APA existed for almost 60 years before drafting its first Code of Ethics. It took several years of revisions and amendments before becoming the standards we have today. The goal was to establish an empirical approach that was unified when making ethical based decisions in the practice of psychology across several domains (Drogin, 2019). 

Psychologists are asked to assist in social justice movement, conduct research, provide services in which relationships and personal dignity may be impacted, and maintain professional competence while delivering services that align with managed care requirements. Aspects of morality are not always clearly defined in such instances, despite the psychologist’s intentions.

The Stamford Prison Experiment is a well-known example of an ethically controversial research project in which students were instructed to take on the role of prison guards and prisoners. The behavioral study was controversially groundbreaking and has been analyzed several times. Some analysts argue discrepancies surrounding the parameters of the hypothesis and others argue that the intended desired outcome may have been inadvertently communicated to several of the subjects. Despite the insight gained from the experiment, the wellbeing of the subjects was not considered while establishing the parameters of the study (DeJong, 1975).

While Dr. Zimbardo may not have intended the experiment to cause residual distress to its participants, the experiment showcase the grey area in morality and ethics. The study itself may have had moral intentions; the outcome produced undesired long-term distress for the participants. A unified and established Code of ethics provides a framework to practice psychology in attempt to preserve integrity of the field and its contributions.



Drogin, E. Y. (2019). Ethical conflicts in psychology (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Sundararajan, L. (2019). Whither indigenous psychology? Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology39(2), 81–89.

DeJong, W. (1975). Another look at Banuazizi and Movahedi’s analysis of the Stanford Prison Experiment. American Psychologist30(10), 1013–1015.


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