Discuss ethical considerations in research into genetic influences on behavior.

There are certain ethical considerations that are common to all methods of research. To begin with, ethical considerations concern with what is acceptable and unacceptable to perform in a study. Researchers, regardless of social or racial background, will have to balance between the knowledge gained and the rights of the participants. To prevent such matters from occurring, different professional organizations of psychologists have established different sets of guidelines and principles. Examples of organizations include American Psychological Association (APA) and British Psychological Society (BPS). Some common ethical considerations include informed consent, use of deception, protection from harm, the right to withdraw, confidentiality, privacy and debriefing. The following is a general overview of what the following are:



Informed Consent: Participants are formally asked to indicate their agreement to participate. Participants should be informed about the purpose of the experiment and their rights. Presumptive consent can be given.



Deception: When the participants are deceived of the true aims of the study. Sometimes necessary because participants might alter behavior. Deception prevents informed consent. Participants may feel embarrassed and have a lower self esteem



The Right to Withdraw: Participants should have the right to withdraw at any time during the study.

Protection from Harm: Experimenters should avoid any situation that may cause the participant to experience psychological or physical harm at all costs



Confidentiality: Anonymity should be kept and real names should not be used/False names and numbers should be used instead



Privacy: Researchers should not observe anyone without their informed consent even in public places



Debriefing: Participants are informed of the true nature of the study after the research has taken place. The aim of debriefing is to restore the participants to the state he/she was in at the start of the experiment



Genetic Research- In terms of genetic research, there are also several ethical considerations to make. Firstly, the information obtained during genetic research should be kept confidential and the participant should be kept anonymous. This is because if this information are leaked, it could be stigmatizing to the participant as the participant may have difficulties securing jobs and insurance. The results can also potentially deteriorate one’s self-esteem. Secondly, an informed consent should also be given, which means that the participants should know that their privacy and confidentiality will be preserved. Thirdly and more seriously, the results should not be interpreted wrongly as to justify discrimination against a certain group of people. Fourthly, genetic researches also bring up an important question; is our behavior partly influenced by our genes? Do we really have free will? Can we really be held responsible for our actions? Lastly, if parents obtained certain information about the genes of their unborn child, should there be limits to parental decisions based on the information learnt about the genetic mapping of their child? In addition, do they have the right to abort the child if unwanted genes show up in their unborn child? These are all very interesting ethical questions.



Confidentiality issue: If misused, genetic information may be stigmatizing, may affect people’s ability to get jobs or insurance

Consent: Participants should know their privacy and confidentiality will be protected, they must agree to participate (example: The 1967 Money twin study where the twin boys did not agree to participate)

Problems of abortion: Should parents have the right to do abortion because of genetic knowledge of their unborn child?

Racism/discrimination: Genetic information may be misused to justify discrimination and racism (e.g. the Eugenics movement, Jensen’s research on intelligence between races, the prevalence of certain genes in different ethnic groups)

Ethical considerations of findings in genetic research: Given the methodological problems involved in genetic research, particular care needs to be taken into the use and interpretation of the findings.

Genetic determinism: If our behavior is partly influenced by our genes, to what extent do we have free will, i.e. can be held responsible?

Case Studies: Nurnberger and Gershon (1972), Dr. Money (1974), Caspi et al (2003)
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