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Psychological Studies and Experiments: Code of Conduct


The American Psychological Association provides ethical guidelines to ensure that the rights of research participants are upheld and to safeguard the reputation of the psychological researchers and the discipline of psychology (McLeod, 2015). Researchers have a moral duty to preserve the dignity and rights of the study participants. Thus, they must work within the stipulated ethical conduct and their discretion should ensure due respect is accorded to people participating. The following paper is based on past psychological studies i.e. Stanly Milgram’s ‘Obedience Experiment’, Philip Zimbardo’s ‘Stanford Prison Experiment, and Jane Elliott’s ‘Class Divided’. It reviews whether the experiments were important or not and the extent to which the results justify the experiments.

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In the Stanly Milgram’s ‘Obedience Experiment’, the aim of the study was to find out the extent various people are willing to implement commands from authoritative figures. The study was informed by social life context in which an individual obeys to instructions from an authority. According to Burger (2009), many crimes are committed in response to commands compared to outright rebellion. In the context, the ‘teachers’ obeyed to a certain degree to give the electric shock to the ‘learners’. The results affirmed the notion of obedience to authority in which people are socialized by cultures to follow directions of those in authority; hence, the participants followed the instructions.

The study was important due to the fact that the results pointed to the extent to which people are willing to follow commands. However, the results did not justify the experiments. The American Psychological Association has set ethical guidelines that require that human dignity must be held for study participants. For instance, researchers should obtain fully informed consent of participants. The fully informed consent entails making the participants know what they are being exposed to and not just agreeing to the study (McLeod, 2015). In the case, the researcher did not obtain informed consent from the ‘teachers’.

Similarly, in the Stanford prison experiment, the study was significant in showing how people react to different situations based on the environment (Haney & Banks, n.d.). The results of the study showed that people conform to social roles. For example, the creation of the prison environment altered the traits of the guards. The people who had not displayed signs of brutality before became brutal. Therefore, the results were important in determining the role of situational factors and how personality can easily be replaced by group norms. Despite the depiction of the influence of the situational factors, the design of the experiment was not justified. The failure to ensure fully informed consent led to prisoners’ mental and physical distress, as evident in the case of one prisoner who screamed and cried uncontrollably. The example showed that the study failed to put into consideration the rights of the participants and their psychological wellbeing during the process.

In the ‘Class Divided’, the experiment sought to find out the effect of discrimination based on eye color. Though the results were important in understanding some social aspects, the extent of the risks surpassed the normal situations hence the experiment was not justified. Besides, there was no special care provided to the vulnerable children as provided by American Psychological Association code of conduct. McLeod (2005) noted that there should be no greater harm than that the study participants endure in their daily life. In the case of the three experiments, the studies exposed the participants to humiliation more than in the normal conditions.


Burger, J. (2009). Milgram’s behavioral study of obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(1), 371-378.

Haney, C., & Banks, W. C. (n.d.). A study of prisoners and guards in a simulated prison. Naval Research Review, 30(1), 4-17.

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McLeod, S. A. (2015). Psychology research ethics. Web.

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