Hello everyone!

Your first thought may be how are genetics relevant to Psychology/research methods?

Psychology expands beyond just lab experiments, and includes; lesion studies, drug trials, animal studies and much more. Genetics underpin human biology and in recent years genetic research has been looking at the heritability of behavioural and cognitive attributes such as intelligence and personality. I also feel that this matter is hugely relevant with the recent changes in confidentiality policy regarding medical files(http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16026827)

Let’s start with what many consider to be the primary ethical consideration, Non-Maleficence(protecting participants from harm). Usually in psychological research we primarily focus on potential harm of the experiment itself, however in genetics there is a great deal of concern over the potential harm of results. Whether results should be revealed to participants is a controversial subject,and despite extensive debate there is still no consensus (Holtzman and Watson, 1997: Bredenoord et al, 2011). Nevertheless it is generally agreed that if results are disclosed, then appropriate counselling provisions should be in place to ensure results are interpreted correctly. Imagine for example, an experiment found that men had increased risk to a certain disease. This could lead to male participants to believe that they will inherit this disease(when in reality it’s only a slight increased risk) and a result experience stress or upset.

Researchers are also wary about how their results could stigmatize certain groups (MacKay, 1993).
A famous example of this would be the hugely controversial book “The Bell curve”. The authors in this book made an argument for a strong genetic link between race, intelligence and criminal behaviour. Critics of the book suggest that authors greatly exaggerated role of genetics in intelligence and perpetuated beliefs that are stigmatising and damaging to the public image of certain groups.

Another key ethical consideration is confidentiality. Genetic data alike psychological data is often anonymous, in which the identifying data relating to the sample is destroyed. Though this provides anonymity for the participant, it also make it difficult for the participant to withdraw their sample. This is particularly problematic because data is often stored for future experimentation, and possibly even passed onto third parties (Clayton et al., 1995). Others have also raised the relevant point about whether genetic data can ever be truly anonymous, in that each person’s genetic data is unique and can be used as a identifier in legal and criminal proceedings.

However, anonymous data is only one aspect of confidentiality. While researching for this blog the definitions I came across took a more rudimentary approach of discussing the principles at the heart of confidentiality. These definitions focus on the idea that the participant maintains, “control over the extent, timing, and circumstances of sharing oneself”. (McCabe, 2004). As we’ve covered this means not disclosing their data without their consent, but also giving them control as to what information they choose to disclose in the experiment. This is often very straightforward in psychological testing, in an interview for example the participant can choose to not answering a question, they may even withdraw from the experiment. This however is not quite so simple with genetic data, when you hand over a sample researchers will not always make clear what tests they intend to carry out or what information will be obtained. Genetic data is unique to you and can reveal highly personal information such as genetic predispositions and even family histories of illness (MacKay, 1993). This creates a highly complex ethical situation, Should researchers require consent from the family?

As you can see consent can become an extremely complex matter. As we’ve established there are times when consent cannot be gained (anonymous data), in other cases consent it’s not needed (the person who provided the sample has died). Which raises the question; do we all ways need consent?

As is often the case, ethics debates will ultimately be brought down to the question of “Do the ends justify the means?”. Is it acceptable to breach certain ethical guidelines if the potential benefits are great? In this case we have to ask what potential benefits could be achieved? A famous example which demonstrates this is the case of Henrietta Lacks. Cells were taken from her tumour during a biopsy, these cells have since been used to develop a cure for polio which has saved countless lives. However there is no record that researchers ever obtained her consent. Is this justified? To answers this question we have ask the question.. What are the consequences of using such means? Sadly there are few, if any answers to this question.(Mackay, 1993) expresses concerns that if participants data is not properly protected that individuals could face discrimination. However this is speculation, and the full extent of the consequences are not known, which makes reaching a definitive answer very difficult.

In conclusions as we’ve seen previous debates ethics is dubious territory and that remains the case with genetics. (Bredenoord et al, 2011) concluded that despite extensive debate there remains little consensus on ethics in genetic research. Hopefully this blog has offered you an interesting insight into some of the considerations in genetic ethics and provided a new perspective on ethics as a whole.


Bredenoord et al(2011) Disclosure of individual genetic data to research participants: the debate reconsidered.http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168952510002271

Clayton et al. (1995) Informed consent for genetic research on stored tissue samples. –

Holtzman &Watson (1997) Promoting safe and effective genetic testing in the United States: Principles and Recommendations. – http://www.clinchem.org/content/45/5/732.abstract

MacKay CM (1993) Discussion points to consider in research related to the human genome. –


McCabe (2004) Comment from the Conflicts of Interest, Privacy/Confidentiality, and Tissue Repositories. –

Police DNA Database Links:


Comments – Weeks 11-12.





I am aware that this is the last blog before Christmas, so I apologise in advance for the less than cheery topic. In this weeks blog I would like to draw attention to the matter of Animal testing and ask the question “Is it worthwhile?”.

For a long time my biggest qualm with animal research was the thought the have to animals suffer, despite the fact the results can be extremely beneficial. You’ll find that animal rights groups will stir up the emotions of the public with the use of upsetting and graphic imagery. However do not be manipulated by this sensationalist propaganda. Anyone who takes the time to actually read into animal research will find that it is rarely if ever inhumane, and that regard for the animals welfare is a priority. The BPS(British Psychological Society) for example have a strict list of rules which researchers must adhere to. I’ll include a link to the full document in my references at the bottom, but to save you the time here are a few of the key points:


  • Animal research may not be used if alternatives are available that enable research goals to be accomplished e.g. Simulations.
  • In accordance with The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 researchers must use the smallest number of animals to accomplish the research goals.
  • Harm and distress must be kept to a minimal level.
  • The benefit of the research findings must outweigh the potential harm to the animals.

As you can see, harm must be avoided at all costs and animals may only be used if the potential research findings are considered worthwhile. But this raises the question of, What is considered worthwhile? I will attempt to show you by outlining some key findings and their implications which came from animal research.

The first example I’ve chosen is the research conducted by B.F. Skinner. I’m aware that most of you have heard this, but for the sake of clarity here it is in brief. B.F. Skinner used the operant conditioning chamber, or colloquially known as The Skinner box to investigate learning behaviours. Animals inside the chamber(typically pigeons or rats) had a number of different levers which they could press, each would result in a different response. Some levers would provide an electric shock(punishment) and others would provide food(reward). What Skinner found was that animals would learn behaviours much faster when rewarded than when punished. This seems very simple but was actually a very important finding, Skinner has since been voted the most influential Psychologists of the 20th century(http://psycnet.apa.org/?&fa=main.doiLanding&doi=10.1037/1089-2680.6.2.139).

But how has this finding been applied ? The most obvious application would be in the training of animals for institutions such as the police. Dogs with their superior sense of smell can be used to detect explosives and other weapons and as result save lives. A second application of Skinners findings in the rehabilitation of criminals with the use of token economies. In brief token economies are a system used in correctional facilities in which people are awarded for positive behaviours. Rewards can be material goods such as money,cigarettes, or privileges such as additional time in the exercise yard. Research has shown that token economies are effective in improving behaviour in both youth offenders(Hobbs & Holt 1976) and adult offenders(Ayllon & Millan, 1979) in prisons and correctional facilities.

Another example of beneficial animal research was conducted by Hubel and Wiesel, in which they used single cell recording to study the visual systems in apes and cats. In 1981 they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. Their findings have aided in the understanding of the visual system,sensory processing and the treatment ailments such as cataracts in children. In short, animal research has been hugely beneficial advancing our understanding in a number different fields, and these finding have been used to improve the lives of many.

This may be the case, but what about generalisability? If we’re going to claim that research may not be representative due to a small sample, then surely research conducted on a separate species cannot be representative of humans? I too had this thought, and it’s a point I feel is often neglected in animal research debates. This answer isn’t a simple yes or no, but instead it depends. Animals research in terms of emotions or higher level cognition is relatively useless because the differences between animals and humans is too large. However from a purely biological standpoint animals can be in valuable. Animals such as rats share on average 85% genetic similarity with humans and some primates are more than 90% similar. (http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/faq/compgen.shtml). Green(1994) suggests that in terms of basic biology that mammals share a great deal of similarity. It’s certainly true to say that there are differences, but similarities are sufficient that the results can be used to enrich the understanding of humans. Animals research can be especially useful in providing information on long-term effects for example. As animal life-span is much short than a human, we can determine the long-term effects of a drug for example in a relatively short period of time.

In conclusion, animal research is invaluable to the progression of knowledge and until an equal or superior alternative is available, animal research will continue to have a place in science.

Ayllon & Milan, 1979 – http://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar?hl=en&q=Ayllon++Millan+1979&btnG=Search&as_sdt=0%2C5&as_ylo=&as_vis=0

Hobbs and Holt,1976 – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1311924/

BPS Guidelines for animal research – (https://www.distancelearningcentre.com/access/assessments/ethical_guidance/BPS_ethics_wkg_with_animals.pdf )

Green(1994) – I obtained of copy of this as an E-book a few weeks back and sadly couldn’t find the link, however for more info on the book see here- http://www.getcited.org/pub/103140890)

Comments made in week 8/9





A fifth comment was made here(http://cjcpb.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/significant-or-useless/#comment-30) please do not mark this comment, as it was merely to provide links to the studies, because the hyper links In my previous comment did not work.

I’m sure we’re all aware that research can be costly, PET scans for example can cost as much as £1000 an hour.But are you aware that who funds the research may effect the results? In this week’s blog I will be examining the funding bias and asking the following questions: What is it? How and why does it occur? And finally what can we do about it?

Funding bias is the tendency for the results of a study to support the interests of those funding it. A number of meta-analyses have shown that if the company funding the research manufactures the drug on trial the results are more likely to show support for the drug (Becker-Brüser, 2010; Baker et al, 2003). This is worrying as it may result in ineffective or possibly dangerous drugs reaching the public. It’s important to realise that this isn’t limited to pharmaceutical research and evidence has shown funding bias exists across a number of industries such as Tobacco (Turner & Spilich, 2006) and mobile phone companies (Huss et al, 2007) to name a few.

Now that we’ve identified what is it, I want to ask why it occurs? Of the all the questions that this blog attempts to answer, the question of “why” is probably the most difficult. In this articleFlorence Colantuono suggests the reason for funding bias lays in human nature, stating that researchers may feel a sense of loyalty and a desire to please the company. So before we start accusing these researchers of cold-heartedly meddling with their findings for financial gain let’s try and see things from their perspective. Pharmaceutical companies face tremendous pressure, health services and the public rely on them to provide treatments and cures. New drugs have to go through a rigorous series of tests before they’re released(read more here) this can take around 10-15 years of on going research. Over this time a great deal of time and money is riding on a particular outcome. If they were to find that the drug is ineffective then all that time and money is wasted. This doesn’t excuse them, but I’m sure you can see how a researcher will succumb to a certain decision in these particular circumstances. Researchers will sometimes be employees of the company, in which case financial incentives are awarded for completing research early or for dedication to the company. Prochaska, Hall, Bero, 2008 found that tobacco companies based research grants on the likelihood of the research producing a favourable results

You may think that these manipulations would be obvious to those viewing the paper, however In this article Richard Smith a retired editor for the British medical journal claims this is not the case. He states that researcher do not “fiddle directly with results” as this would be “far too crude, and possibly detectable”. This leads us on to the penultimate question of how funding bias occurs. Smith and his colleagues have compiled a list of “tricks of the trade” used to achieve desired results. These include: testing a drug against a less effective drug, testing the drugs against substantially lower and higher doses to seem comparatively less toxic or more effective. You will know that a variety of different variables can serve as a measure of the same construct e.g. stress could be determined by heart rate, levels of cortisol ect. Researchers may choose measures that are likely to reflect more favourably in the results. In the article the example given refers to research on perchlorate exposure (an ingredient in rocket-fuel). Scientists working for perchlorate manufacturers used a single thyroid hormone as a measure of harm. These scientists found that safe levels of exposure were close to three times higher than that of a NAS(National Academy of Sciences ) experiment who used a different measure. Florence Colantuono in the previously mentioned article suggests that companies will withhold or delay the publication of undesirable research, this is supported by Prochaska, Hall, Bero, 2008 who that found tobacco companies would withhold the publication of unfavourable results.

So far we’ve looked at what funding bias is, why and how it occurs, but what can be done to resolve this problem? Florence Colantuono suggests a number of changes can be made to research policy to reduce funding bias:

1) Keeping contact between the researcher and the company to minimum
2) Grants should not be based on outcome of speed of research
3) Funders should not withhold research or prevent the publication of results


These suggestions seem to make sense, but I feel are a overly simplistic. However I’m not going to attempt to solve the problem of funding bias in a blog. Instead I’d like to focus on what we can personally do, after all my goal is to educate the reader(or at least get your started somewhat). You’ve taken a good first step, in that now you’re aware of the funding bias. But now the goal is to incorporate this knowledge into your evaluation of papers. Most papers will include funding information on the first few pages, google the company that funded it, ask the question “what are their motives in this research?” Ask if the results may have been influenced by the funding, because the research we’ve reviewed suggests that there’s a good chance of that being so.


PET Scan Information – http://www.scandirectory.com/content/pet-scan.asp

Becker-Brüser, 2010 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20608245

Baker et al, 2003 – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14645020

Huss et al, 2007 – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17366811

Turner & Spilich, 2006 –

Prochaska, Hall, Bero, 2008 –


Florence Colantuono – http://www.experiment-resources.com/research-grant-funding.html

Information on Cancer drug trials – http://cancerhelp.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancer-questions/how-long-does-it-take-for-a-new-drug-to-go-through-clinical-trials

Richard Smith – http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/14/AR2008071402145.html







































From the blogs I read last week the majority seemed to view ethics as too strict, and claimed that they limit research practices unnecessarily. However I didn’t see any mention of the core reasons why these ethics are important, beyond the moral justification of it being “the right thing to do”. So in an attempt to level the playing field a little, here I am arguing that ethics rarely restrict research, and their strictness is beneficial for psychology.

Many bloggers made the point that in adhering to ethical principles we sacrifice the validity of the results, in an attempt to avoid harm to participants. It was argued that this is a poor trade off, as the as potential harm is generally minimal. An example given was the dilemma of informed consent in observations, doing so compromises the validity of the results and after all why can’t you just get the validity after observing? Well ethics is a very much a catchall system and is rather general in its terms. This prevents unethical studies from slipping through the net, which could occur with vague and less rigid ethical guidelines. So rather than explicitly listing cases when consent is needed, it simply says that you must obtain consent. But doesn’t this overly restrict research? Not at all, in reality studies can get leniency on certain guidelines if it is deemed necessary. In fact deception is used in up to 50-75% of published reports (Adair, Dushenko & Lindsay, 1985). However this can only be used if the study requires it, not just because it would make things easier for the researcher.

People give the example that Milgram’s study would never make it past ethical guidelines these days, but Milgram’s study has been replicated many times since (links included below). So as you can see rigid ethics are important for preventing ethical studies from slipping through the net but ethics can be readdressed to an extent in individual cases if it required, thus rarely restrict research.

However studies have shown that most people did not mind being deceived (http://psp.sagepub.com/content/14/4/664.abstract). If people don’t mind being deceived then what is the harm? Similarly Milgram reported that most (82%) participants reported were glad to have taken part. A few studies have shown that in general most people are largely indifferent to the matter of deception. However dissatisfaction amongst even a few participants in each study can have a big impact collectively. In the Milgram’s experiment of the forty participants, five participants weren’t glad to have participated (12%). Considering the number of studies that occur every year, this degree of dissatisfaction would be devastating to psychology as whole if it occurred regularly. Certainly these are extreme examples, but it shows how disregard for ethics can be cause dissatisfied participants. As I’m sure you’re all aware psychology has a history of controversial studies; Milgram, Harlows Monkeys, Zimbardo to name a few. These certainly are some extreme and rare cases, but I’m sure your aware of the impact that even a few extreme examples can have on the public view of psychology. Just think about which studies are best known to the public when you mention psychological research. Though I wasn’t able to find a more scientific example to illustrate my point here, Let’s just view the top 5 searches when I google “Famous psychology experiments”. Zimbardo and Milgram can be seen on all of them, with one of them being the wiki page of Milgram. Little Albert and Harlow’s monkeys amongst others can be seen. In order to move beyond this we need to ensure a sound moral code. This isn’t just important for ensuring psychology as a respectable and acknowledged science but also to ensure future research. If participants don’t feel their safety and rights as humans are important to the researchers, then they are unlikely to put themselves forward as participants. Many of last week’s posters seemed to show a higher regard for the research than the participants. A perfect example of this came from the following blog http://saspb.wordpress.com/it’s very easy to loose sight of the fact that the research findings are what’s most important here and if it means deceiving someone a little or not getting their signature on a piece of paper maybe its worth it”. To saspb Just to make it clear I’m not picking on you personally. Similar remarks were made by a number of bloggers, yours just best typifies this attitude. The research is incredibly important, but without participants there is no research.

To conclude, hopefully I’ve shown the need for ethics and that they aren’t as restrictive they sometimes seem. Below I have included some links to some Milgram replications.

Links to replications of Milgram: