Ethics is a sensitive broad subject that individuals interpret differently. “Wrong” behavior to one person can be perfectly acceptable to another person. According to an article by Saul McLeod, a tutor at The University of Manchester with a master’s degree in psychology, “Ethics refers to the correct rules of conduct necessary when carrying out research. We have a moral responsibility to protect research participants from harm” (Mcleod).
In 1961, Stanley Milgram, a social psychologist working at Yale University, performed an experiment in order to test people’s “Obedience to Authority.” The subjects were lead to believe that a person in another room was “hooked” to a machine that shocked them with electrical volts if their responses to questions were wrong. Actually, the subjects asked the questions and administered punishment if the questions were answered incorrectly. In reality, what the subjects thought were people were actually prerecorded voices. The researchers ordered the subjects, to continue even when “the voice” indicated pain. Some subjects stopped when they thought they were hurting “the voice,” but others continued with the experiment because of the orders from the researchers. I believe the Milgram Experiment was unethical because the subjects were deceived about the process involved in the experiment. Such deception could cause psychological harm to the subjects.
In the early 1970’s, social psychologist Philip Zimbardo, created an experiment entitled “The Stanford Prison Experiment.” Researchers place volunteer subjects in a mock jail and assigned the roles of either prison guards or prisoners. The purpose of this experiment was to determine people’s “Relationship to Power.” After several days, guards began to physically and psychologically abuse the prisoners. The mistreatment progressed to the point whereby Zimbardo was forced to terminate the experiment early in order to protect some subjects from further harm. This experiment was, extremely unethical, because both the prisoners and guards were exposed to both physical and psychological harm.
Both experiments were very informative, but not worth the risk or possible damage to the participants. According to the rules of ethics, any kind of discovery is not worth the physical or psychological harm to the subjects.
If I were a sociologist, it would be my desire to manage such experiments in order to expand my understanding of social issues, and to improve my understanding of our society.