Informed Consent

Overt Observation
The participants of the group know that they are being observed by an experimenter. Usually requires the experimenter to gain the trust of the group they are observing so they speak more freely.
ex.) O'Reilly (2000) found that British ex-pats were not unhappy with their life in Spain, contrary to the common belief at the time. In order to obtain her results she spent a significant amount of time with the subjects.
Covert Observation
The researcher does not inform the participants that they are being observed. These are usually used with groups that would be hostile with an outside intrusion; for example, drug users or street gangs. Usually the researcher must also gain the trust of the group but unlike over observations they do not know they are being observed, making it hard for the researcher to take notes. This means they must commit more details directly to memory which could possibly be distorted.
Common forms of observation in the Socio-Cultural Level of Analysis are Overt and Covert observations. When observing subjects like this it is unethical to observe them without their previous consent. This must always be considered in an experiment which data are collected through observation of the subject.
observer_inside_illo.jpgexternal image under_cover_surveillance.jpg
Deception
Deception must be used to some extent when observing a group covertly. One example is Leon Festinger et al.'s When Prophecy Fails (1956) Study. The researchers covertly joined a religious cult that believed the world would end on December 21st and when the catastrophes began, flying saucers would come to pick them up. On that fateful day when absolutely nothing happened, the followers maintained their self-esteem by deciding the world had been spared because of the group's prayers.
external image ltn_max_59.jpg


In order to gain access to the group they must have first deceived them by not telling them they are researchers who aim to study them. By modern research standards the above-mentioned study would not be considered ethically valid most likely but it still can give great insight.







Withdrawal from a study
external image stanford-prison-experiment.jpg
Another ethical issue that is brought on mostly by covert observation. When participants do not know they are being observed it is impossible for them to withdraw from a study. One instance
where this was an issue was Philip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment. Participant's, while they were able to withdraw felt that they had to stay in the experiment and were sometimes coerced by other participants into staying.


Protection from physical or mental harm

While this is one of the most important ethical guidelines to follow, it hardly ever a true concern in most experiments, especially ones carried out today. One experiment that pushed these boundaries was the afore-mentioned Stanford Prison Experiment, Zimbardo (1971). The participants were separated into 2 groups; the prisoners and the guards. They were then brought to an area that functioned as a mock prison and was said to last for 2 weeks. However, the experiment was canceled after only 6 days. Through the corruption of power of the guards physical and mental harm came about the experiment. The guards were not ill-natured people, but they were only playing their role, which they later regretted but had no remorse over at first.







Introduction Paragraph



As with any aspect of Psychology that uses research studies, studies in the Socio-cultural Level of Analysis requires the researcher to follow the main ethical guidelines. While all the guidelines should be followed and respected, there are four of which should be taken into extra careful consideration. As with any study there should be Informed Consent. Regarding the SLA this usually involves Overt and Covert Observations. Overt being that the groups know they are being watched and studied by a researcher and Covert being that they do not know. Since covert observations require that the participant not know they are being watched there is concern about whether they are informed of this act. Also in order to gain access to groups in a covert manner also requires a degree of Deception, such as Festinger et al. (1956). By today’s standards it is unethical to deceive to a great extent, and if done it must be gone over in the debriefing. While being in a Covert Observation the participant does not know they are being observed, making it impossible for them to withdraw from the study which brings further ethical implications. While not directly related to the topic of covert observations, The Stanford Prison Experiment by Zimbardo (1971) brings the attention to Protection from Physical or Mental Harm.