Ethics in Research : Informed Consent

By Jen Linsalata

Prior to the 1970’s few guidelines and standards existed to protect human subjects in research studies. Research on human subjects is paramount in the advancement of science, medicine, and psychology, however one may only need to look to the experiments conducted on unwilling subjects during the Nazi regime in which concentration camp prisoners were subjected to heinous experiments for the advancement of science. Similarly, the Tuskegee syphilis experiments resulted in the spread and death of hundreds of poor African-Americans due to the disease being unwittingly injected into a non consenting population (Williams, et. al., ND). 

Since then, the APA has emphasized ethical standards surrounding informed consent in research. Institutional Review Boards assess proposed research studies provide another layer of scrutiny to ensure the safety of human subjects (APA, 2019). The diversity of backgrounds serving on IRBs provides insight into differing professional domains that may not have otherwise been addressed during the research planning phase (Drogin, 2019). 

All research conducted must first garner support form an IRB and should be conducted in an area familiar to the researcher. This reduces potential risk of harm that may arise to human subjects (Drogin, 2019). Informed consent in research must be provided. Psychologists must disclose the purpose, expected duration, and the procedures that will be used during a research study. Human subjects must be made aware of their right to decline participation at any point during the study and any foreseeable consequences that may arise as a result of declining (APA, 2019).  

Informed consent documents must outline the nature of the experiment or treatment, services available to the control group, and the method in which control groups are selected. Documents must inform participants of alternative treatments available if the participant wishes to withdraw from the study (APA. 2019). Consent documents otn present the participant with a multitude of information at one time. Study suggest that participants do not retain much of the information presented in the consent documents. Some cases suggest that participants are unaware that they have signed consent documents for study participation and were unaware of their options to withdraw (Festinger, et. al., 2009).

It is not uncommon for research projects to offer incentives for human subject participation. Festinger, et. al., (2009) suggests that monetary incentives increase research participation, reduce participant drop out, and increase retention of informed consent information. The APA Code of Ethics acknowledges that the use of incentives occurs and warns against offering excessive incentives (APA, 2019). Excessive incentives can be viewed as a form of coercion for participation and corrupt the scientific credibility of the research outcome.  


American Psychological Association (2019). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of  conduct including the 2010 and 2016 amendments. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from

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

Festinger, D. S., Marlowe, D. B., Croft, J. R., Dugosh, K. L., Arabia, P. L., & Benasutti, K. M. (2009). Monetary incentives improve recall of research consent information: It pays to remember. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 17(2), 99–104.

Williams, S., Schiller, T., Lepro, C., Hettwer, N., & Greunke, J. (ND). KEY EVENTS IN ETHICAL RESEARCH. Capella University, retrieved from


Considering Socioeconomic Status in Treatment

By Jen L’Insalata

Socioeconomic status encompasses more then just income. It includes aspects of ownership, wealth, and class identity. Social gradients between rich and poor showcase varying degrees of well-being linked to mental and physical health outcomes, access to resources, opportunity, and education, and provide a pathway to power through the existence of a status-driven western economy (Wilkinson, & Pickett, 2017).

Individuals residing in a higher socioeconomic status have access to healthcare and education which present opportunities for global wellbeing. Education and career endeavors associated with higher income offer a sense of prestige that is often unavailable to those of lower socioeconomic standing (Wilkinson, & Pickett, 2017). Individuals in lower socioeconomic classes are often considered ‘disadvantaged’ in terms of health outcomes, access, and opportunity. The association with being ‘disadvantaged’ leads to social isolation and alienation (Smith, 2005).

Poverty is complex and can be addressed from framework spanning several disciplines including psychology. However psychological services often fall short when providing services for low income populations. Classism and negative biases often influence the service provider and distinctions between white collar and blue-collar mentalities are not acknowledged in the therapeutic setting. This further exacerbates alienation and leads to a breakdown in understanding between the therapist and the client (Smith, 2009).

Historical movements have attempted to provide access to psychological services to lower income individuals through means of community mental health programs. Clinicians trained through higher education observed that individuals from lower socioeconomic status appeared unable to “grasp” concepts addressed through therapy (Smith, 2009). Misconceptions surrounding relatability and priority further alienate the client from the therapist.

When developing psychological services for lower income populations, once can utilize Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs as a framework. Maslow suggests that in order for individuals to address higher level concerns, basic needs must be satisfied (Wedding, & Corsini, 2014). In application, psychologists must recognize that individuals at lower socioeconomic statuses often struggle to secure basic needs such as food and shelter. Thus, priorities differ from individuals who have obtained security in low level needs and are able to focus on higher level motivators such as belonging, emotional wellbeing, and self-actualization.

Strength based client centered approaches are likely benefit those at lower socioeconomic levels as the focus on a client’s strengths rather then limitations and encourage the client to take an active role in the course of their program. Strength based client focused approaches rely heavily on collaboration when treatment planning and recognizing that clients may experience challenges unforeseen to the therapist. Strength based approaches also place the client in the position as the expert shifting the power differential between client and psychologist (Snyder & Lopez, 2006).

Similarly, family systems theory incorporates both the systemic and structural framework when working with low income individuals. Family systems therapy addresses poverty as it effects the individual and conceptualizes a client’s relationship to poverty when formulating a treatment approach (Smith, 2005). The therapist becomes aware of their interactions as a component of the system structure and thus the impact on the client.


Smith, L. (2005). Psychotherapy, Classism, and the Poor: Conspicuous by Their Absence. American Psychologist, 60(7), 687–696.

Snyder C.R. & Lopez, S.J.(2006). Positive Psychology: The Scientific and Practical Explorations of Human Strengths” SAGE.

Wedding, D., & Corsini, R. J. (Eds.). (2014). Current psychotherapies (10th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole. ISBN: 9781285083711.

Wilkinson, R. G., & Pickett, K. E. (2017). The enemy between us: The psychological and social costs of inequality. European Journal of Social Psychology, 47(1), 11–24.

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.

Defining Personality

by Jen L’Insalata

The concept of personality has evolved over the years as theoretical climates in psychology shifted concerning the nature of humanity. The origins of the word personality stems from the Latin persona meaning to wear a mask or project a role. While there is no one definition of personality, it is acceptable to understand personality as patterns of relatively consistent patterns of traits, characteristics and behaviors unique to an individual (Feist, Feist, & Roberts, 2013).

In general, personality involves unique and variable traits, motives, cognitions, contexts, and biological factors that occur within an individual. Such components are consistent over a long duration of time. Personality emphasizes the concept of unique differences amongst individuals as well as the way unique components integrate to form a person as a whole. Additionally, it considers individual adjustment and temperament within the confines of a social or cultural setting (John, Robins, & Pervin, 2010). 

Personality psychology has its origins in psychology, psychiatry, sociology, and anthropology and came into the forefront in the 1930’s due to the industrial urbanization and mass education. Many early theories emphasized individuality and uniqueness as a result of public interest in dramatic displays of psychopathology and fear of depersonalization became popular. Psychologists sought to identify the dimensions of people in general, construct typologies or sub groupings, and understand individual idiosyncrasies (John, Robins, & Pervin, 2010).  Theories stemming from psychometric or analytic origin sought to quantify personality as the sum of individual traits and inter-correlations of traits with the aim of controlling or modifying behavior. Qualitative studies of personality aimed to understand the coherence of consistent patterns of behavior throughout an individual’s life, known as traits (John, Robins, & Pervin, 2010). 

Post WWII, psychologists shifted away from organizing traits of a whole person and sought to investigate specific traits, motives, cognitions, and their social context. The five factor model identifies key factors into which individual traits fall. Typologies and folk concepts also emphasized the idea of traits adhering to distinct patters. The influence of sociology provided foundational concepts surrounding the social context or cultural themes relevant in describing individuals while psychoanalytic theory emphasized individual motives and goals forming the core of personality (John, Robins, & Pervin, 2010). 

The 1950’s and cold war era saw yet another shift in the origin of personality. Behaviorism and the cognitive revolution emphasized the bandura’s theory of self-concept and self-schema as an explanation of personality. Social learning theory also influenced the study of personality and the interest in ways sociocultural environments influence personality. Cross cultural studies identified cultural dimensions such as collectivism and gendering impacting personality.  Advancements in biological studies on behavior have linked psycho-chemical forces in various structures within the brain and nervous system to the arousal of traits illustrated in the five factor model (John, Robins, & Pervin, 2010).  Debates still continue today as to the origin and various components of personality. Theoretical orientation highly influences psychological views surrounding personality.


Feist, J., Feist, G. J., & Roberts, T. (2013). Theories of personality (8th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. ISBN: 9780073532196.

John, O. P., Robins, R. W., & Pervin, L. A. (Eds.). (2010). Handbook of personality: Theory and research (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press. ISBN: 9781609180591.