Contemplation:Respect for Persons


The basic idea of respect for persons is that all individuals should have autonomy and independence. It means that people can make decisions by themselves. Also, those who have diminished autonomy (such as the disabled) are entitled to protection. People who never read the Belmont report may have a misunderstanding of respect for persons: racism. Without the context, people could consider this principle as the respect for participants’ religion or race. According to The Belmont Report (1974), “Respect for persons incorporates at least two ethical convictions: first, that individuals should be treated as autonomous agents, and second, that persons with diminished autonomy are entitled to protection.” This means that the respect is not for people’s religion or race but for their ability to make own decisions. If people are not able to do this, their autonomy also should be protected.

Not Easy

Though the principle of respect for persons is insightful, it is difficult to apply this principle in real researches. In general, researchers always determine whether a person possesses capacity or not due to his age. For example, researchers want to conduct a research which focuses on the effect of video games on different groups of people. Then they will look at different and particular age group such as children between 12 through 18 years old, which is considered as in adolescent period. But the dilemma could rise: the standard for autonomy is vogue. It means that it is hard for researchers to determine the appropriate time to judge people’s capacity to make decisions independently. Because different children have different degrees of mental development that does not always correlate to their ages.

This dilemma needs to be taken into consideration because researchers sometimes conduct these practices to gain variable data.

Research Example

In the research example named “Ethical Implications and Consequences of Phishing Studies in Organizations — An Empirical Perspective”, I explore the application of the principle of respect for persons. Sending out phishing emails, researchers deceived their participants to get valid data in this study. They collected quantitative and qualitative data from the effect on participants. Ethical Implications and Consequences of Phishing Studies does need participants to be volunteer to participate, though they did not tell the participants about the faking phishing emails. Meanwhile, the study has two kinds of consent. The first one is that participants do not know they are deceived in this study. And they did not know what this study would relate to. Another is participants must consent to the use of their feedback after they received the phishing emails.

In this study, even with volunteer participation, I think the dilemma in this study is similar to that of prisoners research in The Belmont Report. It is because the effects of deceiving on participants may be serious. For example, people may distrust emails including parents’ emails due to their experience of deception. And I think this study did not follow the principle of respect for persons in the period of volunteer participation at the beginning of the study. People who participated in this study may refuse to participate other studies because of negative repercussions.

Design Example

A reference design example about the principle of respect for persons can be the Interaction Design from sprint 2. “My project is The animals around you, which enables animal lovers to record animals’ data in the neighborhood.” In this project, I designed a mobile application prototype which can help scientists collect data about urban animals.

The first part of the principle is all individuals should be treated as autonomous agents. To follow this, I tried to make the information in my app without any judgment. Also, I provided all information for users to make them know that the purpose of the research. It can protect users from harm and also respect their autonomy.

But looking at the program, I know that my application did not apply sufficient protections to people who do not have autonomy. Because this app is a low-fidelity prototype, I can not include some functions which can test whether the users have autonomy or not. Because my app needs to collect participants’ locations and personal information, I definitely need to make sure that the users know the app collects their data. And they are willing to provide the data voluntarily. In order to do this, I will add some extra functions to follow the principles. For example, I can add some box which can collect participants’ ages. If they are under 18, I will require the parents’ signatures to confirm the children’s participation through the app.


The Belmont Report. Rep. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 12 July 1974. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.

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