The all science is based on facts. It collects the evidences, compares and makes the conclusions, and establishes the law of its field of study. Methods of obtaining these facts are called research methods. There are many methods used in social, medical or psychological research that requires participation of humans. Therefore, it is important to note that ethics plays a crucial role protecting rights of participants in any scientific research. The term “ethics” means moral standards and values accepted by society, professional organizations or group of individuals (ref). That is to say, ethics examines the differences between what is considered positive and negative behavior that helps to evaluate findings about behavioral assessment. Ethics indicates to the right rules of behavior in the process of research (ref). Consequently, national and international organizations like British Psychological Society (BPS) and American Psychological Association (APA) created ethical guidelines for different groups of researchers to protect research participants from harm and also to sustain the reputation of psychology science.
Methodology of research carries out the most important role in the process of study. The word of “methodology” is originated from Greek language words “methods” and “logos” which define methodology as the general principles of cognition (ref). In other words, methodology can be described as a theory that analyzes scientific cognitive process and its principles, methods of scientific research and specific research technique. Therefore, in each particular study it is important to outline the concept of research that helps to express the hypothesis of research, main theoretical statements based on actual research and appropriately chosen methods. Improperly chosen and misdirected research methods in a study can lead to false results and an erroneous conclusion.
However, ethical and methodological dilemmas are inevitable in the research studies, especially when dealing with unusual populations. In most cases they are children, people that diagnosed with severe mental illness such as schizophrenia or other psychotic conditions and others who have limited ability to respond. Therefore, the rest of the essay will present the main ethics and methodological issues that may arise when dealing with unusual populations such as children and psychiatric patients.
There is no single and accurate answer how to deal in specific situation, which is related with a solution to ethical issues. It depends on the researcher’s ability to strike a balance between problematic sides. The British Psychological Society (BPS, 2014) and American Psychological Association (APA, 2010, 2017) released a code of ethics in psychology and highlighted ethical issues of research with humans such as valid consent, debrief, protection of participants, confidentiality, deception and withdraw from research. These main ethical issues might arise when dealing with any population of humans, however same ethical issues and even more might arise in more complicated situations when dealing with unusual populations such as children and psychiatric patients suffering from depression, schizophrenia, PTSD or ADHD.
It is important to note that The United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child (UNICEF, 1989) helped legalize children’s participation in the scientific research of their development and cognition about their lives. As a result of this law, children now is viewed as competent and fully entitled to take a part of the research study. Therefore, researchers have been challenged to find appropriate methods and key ethical requirements that would not harm the child and provide the comprehensive protection during the study. However, each study is different and most ethical issues can be isolated during the study. Consequently, the research carried out in support of their analysis that provides a basis for identifying and addressing the issues of ethics and proposing solutions how to deal with one or another situation. Studies in the research with children (Harden et al., 2000; Punch, 2002b; Kirk, 2007; Fargas-Malet et al., 2010 & Graham et al., 2016) have raised exceptional ethical issues such as power relations and protection, informed consent, privacy and confidentiality. Power relations might arise as an ethical issue due to inadequate power relations between child and adult (Punch, 2002b). Parents or caregivers may act as gatekeepers in their child’s participation in a study as they are responsible for giving permission to be the part of the research (Harden et al., 2000). In order to protect their child, they can positively or negatively influence child’s participation, which can lead to concern about child’s autonomy in the trial. Researchers also must take steps to protect children from mental stress and physical discomfort. They have to be prepared to face any negativity (such as guilt, failure or embarrassment) that children may experience in the trial (Kirk, 2007). Another key ethical issue to remember is informed consent that includes voluntary participation in the study, participant’s competency and information about the research (Fargas-Malet et al., 2010). In other words, informed consent
Finally, privacy and confidentiality may be a problematic issue even when it should ensure the privacy of participant’s information from public disclosure. However, the limitations of confidentiality in the research with children pointed out that confidential information could not be fully assured if the child is in danger (Graham et al., 2016). Hence, researchers have a duty to pass the information to relevant people of institutions if they feel that child is at risk.