How To Be a Nice Researcher
Updated: Jan 5
You're sitting in class, but your teacher suddenly tells one half of the students to wear this ugly, stinky sweater for an entire month while the other half doesn't have to. Unsurprisingly, you turn out to be sitting with the unlucky kids. In hopes of not being fatally humiliated by your peers, you ask your teacher for the purpose of this "exercise." Your teacher gives you a smile and says that it's all for her research. Anyone who refuses to participate will be given a failing grade. Ouch!
There's no doubt that something about your teacher's strange study is a wee bit off. Do you know what the best kind of research design is? An ethical kind.
The American Psychological Association, also known as the APA, is the nation's largest organization of psychologists. They established ethical guidelines for respecting the worth of humans and animals in research. Before collecting any data, researchers are required to propose their study to the institutional review board (IRB), which ultimates give you the green light before doing anything.
Here are some things you should do to make sure your research design doesn't cause too much harm:
1. Don't force people to do things they don't want to do.
Some may not have a problem with wearing an ugly sweater all day, but participation should be voluntary if you don't want people to be grumpy.
2. Informed consent is key.
Before making any kind of decision, it's best to know what you're getting yourself into. "Tricking" participants is possible, but it can't be too extreme. Participants should give their consent after a decent rundown on the study's procedure and goal.
3. Protect your participants' privacy.
Identities and actions of your participants should be protected at all times. Anonymity is when you do not collect any information that may be tracked back to a particular person (e.g., names, phone numbers, email addresses).
Sometimes, a researcher may need to obtain this kind of information for certain studies, such as interviews. Confidentiality must be kept by not sharing personal information after collecting it.
Anonymity is when you don't collect, and confidentiality is when you don't share.
4. Don't put people at risk.
Thinking about asking your participants to violently chase each other around the school for two hours straight? Well, think again. Temporary discomfort is normally okay, but you want to avoid giving any long-term mental or physical harm.
5. Share the truth.
Debriefing is when you explain the real purpose of your study and your results to your participants after completion. A thorough debriefing is especially important if your study involves deception.