HSP3M Grade 11 Anthropology – Ethics in Psychology

Section 5.3—Ethical Issues in Psychology

Unethical Experiments

David Reimer

  • at 8 months, Bruce Reimer had his circumcision and it went wrong—his penis was destroyed
  • John Money recommended that his parents raise him as a female named “Brenda”
    • Money believed gender to be a matter of socialization, but failed to tell the mother that this had never been proven
  • after years of feeling “wrong” Brenda discovered the truth
  • Brenda began living as David
  • David Reimer faced deep psychological issues (and depression), eventually committing suicide


Issues in Unethical Testing

Studying the Unsuitable—Genie

  • Genie was a 12 year old isolate
  • many psychologists wanted to study her learning and language acquisition skills since she started so late in life as she was an isolate and was neglected by her parents and locked in a room
  • while she stayed in the hospital, her psychologist became her surrogate parent
  • a year later, she moved in with her teacher Jean Butler, who kept Genie away from the other members studying Genie
  • when Genie began to hoard items in her room, she was moved again to live with her new foster parents of her therapist David Rigler and teacher Marilyn Rigler (they were married)
  • all of her foster parents cared for Genie, but they also studied her and hoped to gain recognition for their results
    • possible conflict of interest when those who studied her also took care of her


Should We Change People Based on Psychological Beliefs?

  • psychology research offers a wealth of info about human nature, which can have an influence on policies and the way others are treated
  • historically, decisions were made without enough evidence to support them—they were based on beliefs rather than evidence


Left Is Not Right

  • for centuries, left-handedness was considered strange and something to be discouraged
  • people believed left was associated with evil
  • teachers would tie children’s left arms and force them to become right handed (popular in 1900s)



  • in 1950s and 1960s, normal meant being heterosexual (not homosexual)
  • homosexuals were labelled as deviants and thought of as weak and susceptible to such influences as communism (a concern/fear during those times), threat to national security, immoral, weak
  • in 1948, Alfred Kinsey conducted the largest study on sexuality—he concluded that sexuality couldn’t be defined as gay or straight
    • believed that sexuality was a continuum from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual; in the middle were things like predominately heterosexual, incidentally homosexual, equally homo and hetero
  • the medical community thought homosexuality to be a psychiatric disorder
    • it was defined as a mental illness until 1973
    • believed to be caused by an event in childhood or by domineering mothers and weak fathers
  • in 1961, Canadian military hired Robert Wake to create a test that would distinguish whether a person was gay or straight
    • Wake hooked participants to a machine that monitored pupil dilation, perspiration and other physiological signs as he said words and showed pictures related to homosexuality
    • his machine wasn’t successful—made it to only the pilot part
    • social damage occurred as a result—soldiers knew they had to keep sexuality a secret or else they might lose job, friends, and family
    • between 1959 and 1968, a committee of RCMP officers and representatives of National Defence, External Affairs, and Privy Council investigated 9000 men and women in civil service suspected of being gay—many were fired because of orientation
      • today, dismissal for reasons of sexuality is illegal



Advertisements for Kids

  • everything we see in an advertisement is carefully planned—they’re meant to stick in your head
  • advertisement industry is targeting children (research shows children as young as 2 can develop brand loyalty)
  • advertisers employ psychologists to advise them on how to achieve their goal—the psychologists give advice about child development and insight to social and emotional needs, to create ads that effectively target children
    • ethics: are psychologists behaving ethically?
  • even though many ads are geared towards kids, there are very specific standards in the Broadcast Code for Advertising to Children
    • it states advertisers aren’t allowed to do certain things (use subliminal messaging or encourage children to purchase a product, or ask their parents to purchase a product)
    • they allow companies to make children buy things using creative strategies like “pester power”—have kids nag their parents to buy products