To describe differences between natural sciences and human sciences, Isaiah Berlin stressed how experiments of natural sciences observe elements that are expected to react according to previously declared hypothesis, while researches of human sciences observe human beings acting in their singular and sometimes surprising ways. Researchers, as well as practitioners contributing in applied fields to use psychological knowledge to relieve human problems, all have to cope with the fact that research participants or people involved in psychological interventions do not react to psychologists, but interact with them. Referring to psychological researches, on which I will like to focus my contribution, it means that results cannot be completely foreseen in advance, since they are built in cooperation between researchers and participants: researchers organize different kinds of settings, and participants act according to them. In his famous book Remembering (1932) F. C. Bartlett, first chair of Experimental Psychology in Cambridge, described his work in a simply but somehow provocative way, saying that he organized the experimental game and participants played it. However, during the game of psychological research, plenty of unexpected actions could be performed. Among the many examples that could be quoted, we may just think to Milgram and to the good fellows that volunteered to participate to his experiments. According to the cover story he presented participants with, the experiment was meant at founding out “what effect punishment will have on learning” (Milgram, 1963, p. 373, original italics). But neither this eminent scholar nor his trustful participants could ever foresee in advance that this experiment will end by making all of them discover how passive a decent person could be, when ordered to use a senseless violence against an innocent stranger. At our present level of advancement, we may easily see that human rights of those participants were threatened – for instance, the right to assume that you are a decent human being, and the right not to be abruptly exposed to a sad knowledge about the worst aspects of your relationships with crazy authorities. But we may also consider that the rights of Milgram and of his team were put at stake too, for instance because they decide without any previous discussion either to go on, affirming their right to freely produce innovative and relevant knowledge, or to stop, accomplishing their duty to protect participants from any kind of damage. One interesting aspect of rights, in fact, is that they can easily reverse into duties – and that is after all the core topic ethical codes for psychological research try to cope with. Moreover – although in an indirect way – results of this famous research, if diffused in a too simplistic way, could damage the plausible social representation of human mind that ordinary readers expect to find out when presented with psychological researches. Without fully understanding his procedural subtleties or complexities of his research design, in fact, the work of Milgram could easily be reduced to a sophisticated version of the banal idea that everyone could behave awfully in social interactions, if only inserted in a well-organized social trick meant to produce evil. A cheap science infotainment, that mindlessly propagates the same idea of people being only little wheels in an overwhelming social gear, that was the core of totalitarian ideologies devastating Europe (Arendt, 1973). We all know that there are many reasons why Milgram was not sanctioned for his studies – and why his experiments are inserted still now in all valuable handbook of Social Psychology instead. From the point of view of ethical codes, this was due to the fact that the shocking behaviours enacted by the majority of participants (but not by all of them) were unexpected by him and his team before the experiment. In a certain sense, such a milestone allowed us to reverse the sentence of its cover story, and to better Human Rights Education for Psychologists and Fundamental Rights Awareness, Experts' meeting appreciate “what effect learning will have on punishment”. In our meeting, I will try to contribute to the general discussion by focusing on the importance of the topic of human rights in the field of the ethical issues that can rise during psychological research. I will propose to consider this problem from different perspectives: observing interactions between participants, interactions between participants and researchers, interactions between researchers and their scientific communities, interactions between the scientific community of psychologists and the society where they live and work. The general point that I will try to make is that, when referring to ethical codes, human rights of all subjects involved in a psychological research – participants, researchers, psychologists, citizens – are linked to a basic dilemma. On the one hand, human rights are threatened by unexpected actions performed when participating to the unusual social game of psychological research. On the other hand, a precious learning may rise from psychological research activities when unexpected effects are shown: effects that cannot be fully understood without developing a new and more powerful theoretical model of the human mind. By quoting examples of bad and good practices referred to ethical codes of psychological research, I will try to discuss the idea that ethical codes are useless if researchers are not aware of consequences their work can have for their society and culture, and vice versa. It is not by chance, in fact, that ethical codes are usually opened by a declaration of principles inspiring them – principles expressing the degree of awareness about human rights reached at that specific moment by the community of psychologists and by societies and cultures where their work is daily embedded. It implies – and that was what I learnt thanks to my experience in the committee writing a new version of the Italian ethical code --, that ethical codes are nothing more than a transient result of our present critical understanding about psychological research and its contributions to society and culture. Working for that and teaching about that to new generations of psychologists allow us to grasp that this is a never ending challenge.
|Titolo:||Discussing and teaching about ethical issues in psychological research: A never ending challenge|
LEONE, GIOVANNA (Corresponding author)
|Data di pubblicazione:||2016|
|Appartiene alla tipologia:||04b Atto di convegno in volume|