4 The Essence of Ethics for Psychologists and Aspiring Psychologists

Cannie Stark, PhD Professor Emerita of Psychology, University of Regina Honourary Life Fellow, Canadian Psychological Association


Introducing Me

Educated and trained at McGill University, I was the first doctoral student to have her research proposal vetted by a research ethics committee.  I was a graduate student in the 1960s, back when it was a time of hope, a time of questioning absolutely everything, a very exciting time of creativity and exploration.


Although trained as a clinical psychologist, the way that I chose to practise psychology was through my teaching, my research, and my service to the discipline, all of which I have thoroughly enjoyed.  I have taught courses in research methodology, abnormal psychology, social psychology, psychology of women, and, of course, ethics in psychology.  I loved watching students’ awakenings to new world views.  I was also the first person in Canada to teach courses in the psychology of women, way back in the 1970s.


I also loved conducting research, loved the almost paralyzing excitement of coming up with new ideas, new ways of asking research questions, new ways of analyzing data, and new interpretations of the results.  I was brought up in the quantitative experimental models of science.  As Honours students, we were not even allowed to take courses in developmental psychology, social psychology, personality, or abnormal psychology because they were “too soft”.  We were also not allowed to take research methods courses in the other social sciences because “they would ruin us as scientists”.  However, the questions that I had a burning desire to ask were always too complex and interwoven for regular univariate models of inquiry.  That is how it came about that I was the first person at McGill to use the multivariate analyses newly introduced in the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences.  Back then, there were no personal computers:  All large and complex analyses had to be done on the university’s mainframe and data had to be entered on punchcards that you then carried in huge piles across campus to the Computer Centre, hoping against hope that you didn’t slip on the ice going downhill.  Although descriptive and analytical multivariate statistics fascinate me with their poetic beauty, I began to realize that the quantitative bias in which I had been trained lacked the deeper understanding that can come from rigorously applied qualitative research methods.  Sequential and concurrent mixed methods have proven to be the most appropriate approaches to the research questions that grip my imagination.


My service to the discipline arose from a personal need for contact with and support from colleagues.  Isolated in a large department where I was one of only three women and the only clinically-trained psychologist, I reached out to the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) for validation and support from colleagues living elsewhere.  In return, I was elected, twice, as Chair of the Interest Group on Women and Psychology (now the Section on Women and Psychology) during which time I organized the first CPA Pre-Convention Institute on Women and Psychology, developed guidelines for non-sexist research that were adopted as policy by CPA (Stark-Adamec & Kimball, 1982, 1984), then served on the CPA Board of Directors (first as Chair of the Applied Division, and then in my own right), eventually serving the discipline as President of the Association.  I have served on the CPA Committee on Ethics since 1993.  Over the years, I have also served the broader social science communities in various capacities (e.g., as Vice-President, Women’s Issues of the Social Science Federation of Canada [SSFC] and as Chair of the Psychology Adjudication Committee for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada [SSHRC])—all with a view to giving back and paying forward.  I have made many lifelong friends in the process of serving the discipline (and a few enemies).

Introducing the Chapter

Retired now, I maintain my service to the discipline by continuing to serve on CPA’s Committee on Ethics.  Developing this chapter is one of the ways that I am giving back to the discipline while paying forward to your development as students of psychology.


My aim is to acquaint you with the CPA Code of Ethics for Psychologists, 4th Edition (hereinafter referred to as the Code) first describing some of the misunderstandings, misperceptions, and confusions with respect to for whom this Code was developed.  Next, I describe some of the herstory/history of our Code, as well as the structure and moral core.


I have found that one of the most effective ways of coming to a meaningful understanding of the four core Principles of our Code is to examine ethical dilemmas with respect to the relevant Standards.  The Standards delineate the best ethical practices and thus serve as, in effect, operational definitions of the core Principles.  So I have provided you with real-life examples of ethical dilemmas in what I’ve called Thought Boxes. I have altered some of the details in order to preserve the privacy of those involved (e.g., in Thought Box 2, I have altered the name of the granting agency).  Then, I have provided you with Tables in which I have listed all of the Standards that are relevant to the incident described in the Thought Box.  Do not be put off by the number of Tables or by the length of some of the Tables.  Instead, read them through and think about how they relate to the incidents.  As in life, some of the incidents are rather complex and have more than one ethical dilemma embedded within.


The first two dilemmas both deal with research.  You may gain the impression that unethical behaviour is the norm in research.  Such is not the case.  But to aid you in the ethical conduct of research, I have provided you with tips on how to conduct your research ethically.  In this section, I cover issues related to objectivity, representativeness, uses and abuses of statistics, control issues, free and informed consent, contract research, academic freedom (complete with a Thought Box), authorship issues, and respectful language.


Unable, for space reasons, to go into more issues in depth, in the next section of the chapter I have nevertheless alerted you to some additional issues that you need to be aware of.  These issues have to do with cultural contexts, supervision and teaching, sexual liaisons, blind faith in peer review, responsibility to society, and service to the public.  Finally, I end the chapter with five Thought Boxes—four of which you are to work through on your own—and some parting advice.


It should be noted that I have chosen to use my “undergraduate lecture voice” throughout this chapter, so the tone is more conversational than the voice that I use in my journal articles.  In part, this is because I miss teaching.  But it is also because this chapter represents a bit of the personal journeys that I have undertaken throughout my career, journeys that I have learned from that I need to share with you.  It is more comfortable for me, when sharing personal information, to converse with you rather than talking at you.

Confusions, Misperceptions, and Misunderstandings 

There appears to be some confusion or misperception with respect to who needs to attend to the Principles, Values Statements, and Standards of the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists (Canadian Psychological Association, 2017).  For instance, some psychologists seem to think that this Code surely does not apply to them because they are not clinical or counselling psychologists.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Some academic psychologists know that, if they are to conduct research with human participants, they must submit a proposal to their Research Ethics Board (REB) and their research must abide by the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (2010), so they figure that they do not even need to read the CPA Code.  Again, nothing could be further from the truth.  Some students of psychology appear to think that they can either ignore the Code (if they have even heard of it) or that they are covered by their supervisor’s responsibilities.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  And some psychologists who conduct research with non-human animals seem to figure that as long as they are adhering to the Animal Care Council of Canada regulations and have submitted their proposed research to their university’s Animal Care Committee for approval, then they, too, have no need even to read the CPA CodeAgain, you guessed it:  Nothing could be further from the truth.


So what is this truth of which I speak?  The key to this truth is that the practice of psychology encompasses far more than the provision of clinical interventions and the conduct of research with human participants or non-human animals.  Did you know that it also encompasses all of the other tasks or duties that you might perform in your role as a psychologist?  So, for instance, it applies to your roles as a student of psychology, whether you are an undergraduate or a graduate student.  It applies to one’s roles of a teacher of psychology, as a supervisor of both undergraduates and graduate students, as an administrator (e.g., as Department Head or Chair, as Dean of a Faculty, all the way up to when you become President of a University, and as a manager in a non-academic setting).  It applies to one’s roles as a consultant, as a peer reviewer of grant proposals or of potential publications, even to your interactions with your peers and colleagues.  So how do we learn what constitutes best practice in all of our roles as psychologists and as students of psychology?  We are very fortunate, in Canada, to have the CPA Code to guide us in our endeavours.

The Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists (Fourth Edition, 2017)

First, it is important to stress what our Code is not.  It is not a list of rules which, if broken, have accompanying punishments.  We all know that punishment is not an effective reinforcement modality for enhancing learning—whether you are a police dog in training or a practising psychologist.  Rather, our Code is aspirational.  What do I mean by that?  Our Code is organized under four PrinciplesI:  Respect for the Dignity of Persons and Peoples.  II:  Responsible Caring.  III:  Integrity in Relationships.  IV:  Responsibility to Society.  A detailed description of the Values underpinning each Principle is provided in the Code.  Perhaps most importantly—in terms both of understanding the Principles, Values, and how these would be reflected in your behaviour—is the provision of the many Standards associated with each Principle.  It is a delineation of what can be seen to be best ethical practices as they apply to psychologists and to students of psychology.


In Table 1, I have totalled up the number of Standards associated with each Principle as well as the number of those Standards that apply to non-clinical situations.

Table 1:  Are the ethical Standards in the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists Relevant Mainly to Clinicians?
Ethical Principles Number of Ethical Standards Associated with the Principle   Number of those Ethical Standards Related to Non-Clinical Situations
I:  Respect for the Dignity of Persons and Peoples 47 45
II:  Responsible Caring 54 52
III:  Integrity in Relationships 37 36
IV:  Responsibility to Society 30 30
Totals 168 163

I did not provide you with this tabulation of Standards in order to overwhelm you (GAK!  You mean that I have to remember and adhere to 168 Standards in order to behave ethically?).  Rather, my purpose was to demonstrate to you that, if 163 of the 168 Standards can be seen to be applicable to the various roles that psychologists engage in other than or in addition to interventions, one can hardly claim that our Code is to be adhered to only by clinical psychologists.  For example, Standard I.15 is Establish fees that are fair in light of the time, energy, and knowledge of the psychologist and any associates or employees, and in light of the market value of the product or service. (CPA, 2017); this clearly does not apply to psychology students preparing term papers, but would apply to clinical psychologists in private practice.  On the other hand, Standard I.11 is Seek to design research, teaching, supervision, practice, and business activities in such a way that they contribute to the fair distribution of benefits to individuals and groups (e.g., couples, families, organizations, communities, peoples), and that they do not unfairly exclude those who are vulnerable or might be disadvantaged (CPA, 2017). This can be seen to apply to all activities in which a psychologist might engage—even to the formulation of the research design for your Honours thesis.  Likewise, Standard I.3 (Strive to use language that conveys respect for the dignity of persons and people’s as much as possible in all spoken, written, electronic, or printed communication. [CPA, 2017]) clearly applies to all of the activities in which psychologists and students of psychology engage.  Note:  When I say all of the activities engaged in, I don’t mean purely personal activities like, for instance, washing the dishes (although it would be nice if you did not “accidentally” break your partner’s favourite coffee mug because you are angry with them).  Our Code “… is intended to guide and regulate only those activities a psychologist engages in by virtue of being a psychologist.  There is no intention to guide or regulate a psychologist’s activities outside of this context, although an individual psychologist might make a personal decision to be guided by the Code’s principles and values outside of this context (CPA, 2017).


Before getting into the heart of the Standards, it is important to put our Code into a bit of an historical context.  In 1977, CPA had adopted the American Psychologist Association’s Code of Ethics—a document that differs significantly from our Code (see Sinclair [1996, 2005] for a detailed analysis and comparison of the two codes.).  A particularly helpful component of our Code is the provision of a 10-step model for ethical decision making.


What few “empirical” studies on the Code have been conducted are reviewed by Hadjistravropoulos (2011).  The major emphasis in these studies, from Hadjistavropoulos’ description of them, appears to be to test the face validity of the hierarchical organization of our Code (i.e., when principles are in conflict, psychologists should give more weight to the first Principle over, for example, the third Principle) and the face validity of the Principles and Values statements; the CPA Code fared very well in these studies.  Of particular interest to me was a study in which the ethical content and functional grammar of the CPA and Canadian Medical Association’s (CMA) codes of ethics were compared (Malloy, Hadjistravropoulos, Douaud, & Smythe, 2002, cited in Hadjistravropoulos, 2011).  According to Malloy, et al., our Code, compared to the CMA Code, “has greater educational value, is less authoritarian, provides a clear rationale for ethical behaviour, and is more empowering to the decision-maker” (Malloy et al., 2002, p. 152).  It is also more likely to allow for increased consideration of situational factors and provides more flexibility in the resolution of complex ethical dilemmas (e.g., through the use of terms such as ‘generally’, ‘relatively’).  Our Code has received praise from the national psychology associations of other countries (Pettifor, 2011) as well as having been adopted by provincial regulatory bodies in our own country (with the exception of Quebec where special circumstances obtain [Gauthier, 2011; Richard, 2011]).  It has been influential in the development of the Tri-Council Policy Statement on Research with Human Participants (O’Neill, 2011) that all researchers funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) of Canada, SSHRC, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada must abide by.  And it served as the model for the development of the Social Science Federation of Canada (SSFC) policy on ethics within all the social sciences (Stark[-Adamec] & Pettifor, 1995).

Problematic Dilemmas

In order to gain a better understanding of our Code and, in particular, the Standards contained therein, it is instructive to examine and analyze some real-life examples of problematic behaviours that I have either witnessed myself or have been told about by trusted (and trusting) sources.  In doing so, I present the examples in Thought Boxes and then, since you may not yet have read our Code, I go over the implications of the behaviours and relate them to the Standards of best practices as delineated in our Code.

Saving the World from Research on Nonverbal Behaviour

In Thought Box 1 you will find described an incident that actually occurred and during which a large number of Standards of our Code were not adhered to.  Take a moment to consider what is wrong with this behaviour.

Thought Box 1

What’s Wrong with This Picture?


A faculty member in a department of psychology was appointed to the Psychology Adjudication Committee of the Canadian Foundation of Behaviours (FoB) and when s/he flew back from Ottawa, in the evening after her/his first meeting with the Committee, s/he rushed into the department lounge and proudly announced to the graduate students congregated there that s/he had successfully saved the world from any research into nonverbal behaviour (in other words, the faculty member claimed to have blocked funding of any nonverbal behaviour research).

How do we go about assessing this situation?  Fortunately, our Code provides us with guidelines on how to think this through.


Who Is Affected?  Paraphrasing one of the 10 steps in ethical decision making outlined in our Code (CPA, 2017, Preamble): Who are the individuals and groups potentially affected by this?  Well, obviously, the graduate students who were in the department that night can be seen to be potentially affected:  They may consider, since faculty are perceived as role models, that it is acceptable behaviour and may be more likely to utter similar biased statements, in public, about areas of research that they don’t respect.  They may consider that it is acceptable to carry this behaviour forward into their lectures.  Should, in the future, they be invited to serve on a granting agency adjudication committee or to serve as a peer reviewer of a manuscript for potential publication, they once again may consider that it is not inappropriate to quash research and research communications that they don’t like.  Then too, if there was a graduate student in the group who was conducting research on nonverbal behaviour for their thesis or dissertation, is s/he likely to feel validated by the faculty member’s behaviour?


But those who are affected extend well beyond the students who witnessed this behaviour.  The psychologists on the Adjudication Committee will also have been affected as a function of having left unfunded (in that particular year) all research proposed in this legitimate area of inquiry.  The Chair of the Adjudication Committee may have been at fault for not reining in this Committee member.  FoB itself may have made an error in appointing this faculty member because even a quick examination of her/his curriculum vitae would have revealed that the areas funded by the FoB were outside her/his areas of expertise.  The faculty member should have declined the invitation to assess grant proposals that were outside of her/his area of knowledge and expertise.  And, most certainly, the faculty member may be seen as having violated her/his confidentiality agreement with the FoB.


Another major impact is, of course, on the scholars whose nonverbal behaviour research proposals were rejected.  Having received a prejudicial review, from which there is absolutely no possibility of appeal, their attitude towards the FoB, fuelled by hurt and justified anger, is unlikely to be positive.  There is also a potential impact on the discipline of psychology.  The study of nonverbal behaviour is a legitimate area of research in psychology; since the unfunded research may not be conducted, potential major breakthroughs in the field may have gone undetected.  The legitimacy of the peer review process may have suffered a credibility blow as well.  In addition, there is a potential impact on society.  Any potential benefits for individuals or groups will have gone undetected and, if the bias in the research funding decision becomes known by the public, public trust in both the discipline and the FoB may be broken.  (Note:  This public perception can have real-world implications in terms of government funding of the FoB and of the discipline.)  So the ramifications of that short utterance by that faculty member are farther reaching than one might have expected at first glance.


What Are The Relevant Issues?  Again paraphrasing one of the steps in ethical decision making outlined in our Code:  What are the ethically relevant issues and practices involved? (CPA, 2017, Preamble).  This is where identification of the Principles and associated Standards come into play. As it turns out, at least 13 of the 45 relevant Standards associated with Principle I are involved here.  These are delineated for you in Table 2.You will see that they deal with general respect, non-discrimination, the fair treatment and due process that nonverbal behaviour researchers were cheated out of, issues surrounding confidentiality, and extended responsibility (in this case, because s/he made this boast to graduate students).

Table 2

Principle I.  Respect for the Dignity of Persons and Peoples

Standards Relevant to Thought Box 1

(Canadian Psychological Association, 2017)


General Respect
I.1        Demonstrate appropriate respect for the knowledge, insight, experience, areas of expertise, and cultural perspectives and values of others, including those that are different from their own, limited only by those that seriously contravene the ethical principles of this Code.
I.2        Not engage publicly (e.g., in public statements, presentations, research reports, with primary clients or other contacts) in degrading comments about others including demeaning jokes based on such characteristics as culture, nationality, ethnicity, colour, race, religion, sex, gender, or sexual orientation.
I.3        Strive to use language that conveys respect for the dignity of persons and peoples as much as possible in all spoken, written, electronic, or printed communications.
General rights
I.5        Avoid or refuse to participate in practices disrespectful of the moral rights of persons or peoples, including their human, legal and civil rights.
I.7        Make every reasonable effort to ensure that psychological knowledge is not misinterpreted or misused, intentionally or unintentionally, to infringe on moral rights.
I.9        Not practise, condone, facilitate, or collaborate with any form of unjust discrimination.
I.11      Seek to design research, teaching, supervision, practice, and business activities in such a way that they contribute to the fair distribution of benefits to individuals and groups … and that they do not unfairly exclude those who are vulnerable or might be disadvantaged.
Fair treatment/due process
I.12      Work and act in a spirit of fair treatment to others.
I.13      Help to establish and abide by due process and other natural justice.
I.43      Be careful not to relay incidental information about colleagues, team members, other collaborators, the primary clients or contract examiners of others, research participants, employees, supervises, students, or trainees gained in the process of their activities as psychologists, that the psychologist has reason to believe is considered confidential by those individuals or groups, except as required or justified by law.  (Also see Standards IV.17 and IV.18)
I.45      Share confidential information with others only to the extent reasonably needed for the purpose of sharing, and only with the informed consent of those involved, or in a manner that the individuals and groups … involved cannot be identified, except as required or justified by law, or in circumstances of possible imminent serious bodily harm.  (Also see Standards II.42, IV.17, and IV.18)
Extended responsibility
I.46      Encourage others, in a manner consistent with this Code, to respect the dignity of persons and peoples, and to expect respect for their own dignity.
I.47      Assume overall responsibility for the scientific and professional activities of their assistants, employees, students, trainees, and supervises, with regard to Respect for the Dignity of Persons and Peoples, all of whom, however, incur similar obligations.

Responsible Caring.  How does this incident fare when the Standards associated with Principle II Responsible Caring are examined?  As can be concluded from Table 3, with 12 of the 54 Standards relevant to non-clinical situations not having been honoured, the incident also does not fare well in this domain.


One might have conjectured that a Principle labelled Responsible Caring would only be relevant in cases of clinical interventions.  But this is clearly not the case.  The issues addressed here deal primarily with the competence in which the faculty member was lacking.  Particularly telling is the seemingly total absence of the requisite self-reflection (Standard II.10).


Table 3

Principle II.  Responsible Caring

Standards Relevant to Thought Box 1

(Canadian Psychological Association, 2017)


General caring
II.1      Protect and promote the well-being and best interests of primary clients, contract examinees, research participants, employees, supervisees, students, trainees, colleagues, team members or other collaborators, and others.
II.2      Avoid doing harm to primary clients, contract examinees, research participants, employees, supervisees, students, trainees, colleagues, team members or other collaborators, and others.
II.3      Accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions.
II.5      Make every reasonable effort to ensure that psychological knowledge is not misinterpreted or misused, intentionally or unintentionally, to harm others.
II.6      Offer or carry out (without supervision) only those activities for which they have established their competence to carry them out to the benefit of others.
II.8      Take immediate steps to obtain consultation or supervision, or to refer a primary client (in this case the “client” is FoB) to a colleague or other appropriate professional, whichever is more likely to result in providing the primary client with competent service, if it becomes apparent that a primary client’s issues or problems are beyond their competence.
II. 9     Keep themselves up to date with a broad range of relevant knowledge, research methods, techniques, and technologies, and their impact on individuals or groups … through the reading of relevant literature, peer consultation, and continuing education activities, in order that their practice, teaching, supervision, and research activities will benefit and not harm others.
II.10    Evaluate how their own experiences, attitudes, culture, beliefs, values, individual differences, specific training, external pressures, personal needs, and historical, economic, and political context might influence their interactions with and perceptions of others, and integrate this awareness into their efforts to benefit and not harm others.
Maximize benefit
II.25    Facilitate the professional and scientific development of their employees, supervisees, students, and trainees by ensuring that they understand the values and ethical prescriptions of the discipline, as well as the competencies needed for their areas of activity, and by providing or arranging for adequate working conditions, and constructive supervision, consultation, and experience opportunities.
Extended responsibility
II.55    Encourage others, in a manner consistent with this Code, to care responsibly.
II.56    Assume overall responsibility for the scientific and professional activities of their assistants, employees, supervisees, students, and trainees with respect to the Principle of Responsible Caring, all of whom, however, incur similar obligations.

Integrity in Relationships.  At least seven of the 36 relevant Standards (Table 4) are not upheld by the faculty member when it comes to Principle III, Integrity in Relationships (my favourite Principle).  In fact, any decent person should demonstrate integrity in their relationships. 


Table 4

Principle III  Integrity in Relationships

Standards Relevant to Thought Box 1

(Canadian Psychological Association, 2017)


III.2     Accurately represent their own and their colleagues’ qualifications (e.g., credentials, education, experience, competence, competence, affiliations) in all spoken, written, or printed communications, being careful not to use descriptions or information that could be misinterpreted (e.g., citing membership in a voluntary association of psychologists as a testament of competence.)
III.5     Accurately represent their own and their colleagues’ activities, functions, contributions and likely or actual outcomes of their activities (including research results) in all spoken, written, electronic, or printed communication.
III.9     Evaluate how their own experiences, attitudes, culture, beliefs, values, individual differences, specific training, external pressures, personal needs, and historical, economic, and political context might influence their activities and thinking, integrating this awareness into their attempts to be as objective and unbiased as possible in their research, service , teaching, supervision,  employment, evaluation, adjudication, editorial, and peer review activities.
Reliance on the discipline
III.34   Familiarize themselves with and take into account their discipline’s guidelines and best practices for their area(s) of activity, and demonstrate a commitment to maintaining the standards of their discipline.
III.35   Seek consultation from colleagues and/or appropriate others, including advisory groups, and give due regard to their advice in arriving at a responsible decision, if faced with difficult situations.
Extended responsibility
III.36   Encourage others, in a manner consistent with this Code, to relate with integrity.
III.37   Assume overall responsibility for the scientific and professional activities of their assistants, employees, supervisees, students, and trainees with regard to the Principle of Integrity in Relationships, all of whom, however, incur similar obligations.

Responsibility to Society.  At least eight of the 36 relevant Standards that were not upheld by the faculty member were related to the Principle of our responsibility to society (Table 5).   By blocking all new research on nonverbal behaviour s/he has deprived society of any benefits that may have accrued as a function of new insights into human behaviour and has interfered with academic freedom–all based on unexamined prejudicial biases.  Perhaps if s/he had been more self-aware, these biases would have been held in check.


Table 5

Principle IV  Responsibility to Society

Standards Relevant to Thought Box 1

(Canadian Psychological Association, 2017)


Development of knowledge
IV. 1    Contribute to the discipline of psychology and to society’s understanding of itself and human beings generally, through free enquiry, innovation, and debate, and through the acquisition, transmission and expression of knowledge and ideas, unless such activities conflict with ethical requirements.
IV.2     Not interfere with, or condone interference with, free enquiry, innovation and debate, and the acquisition, transmission and expression of knowledge and ideas, that do not conflict with ethical requirements.
Beneficial activities
IV.5     Assist in the development of those who enter the discipline of psychology by helping them to acquire a full understanding of their ethical responsibilities and the needed competencies of their chosen areas(s), including an understanding of critical analysis and of the variations, uses, limitations, and possible misinterpretations and misuses of the scientific paradigm.
IV.8     Engage in regular monitoring, assessment, and reporting (e.g., through peer review, in program reviews, and reports of one’s own research) of their ethical practices and safeguards.
IV.10   Uphold the discipline’s responsibility to society by promoting and maintaining the highest standards of the discipline.
IV.11   Protect the skills, knowledge, and interpretations of psychology from being misinterpreted, misused, used incompetently, or made useless (e.g., loss of security of assessment techniques) by others.
Extended responsibility
IV.29   Encourage others, in a manner consistent with this Code, to exercise responsibility to society.
IV.30   Assume overall responsibility for the scientific and professional activities of their assistants, employees, supervisees, students, and trainees with regard to the Principle of Responsibility to Society, all of whom, however, incur similar obligations.

Summary.  It is astounding that one statement uttered by this faculty member to graduate students could, upon examination, be seen to have had such a broad potential impact on so many people.  Equally astounding is the large and widely ranging number of Standards of best ethical practices not observed by the faculty member.  The faculty member obviously should have foregone a free trip to Ottawa because s/he was in no way qualified to serve as a peer reviewer of grant proposals in psychology as a social science.  But going back a step, FoB should have vetted her/his qualifications before even inviting her/him to serve on the Adjudication Committee, thereby preventing this incident from ever happening; perhaps the need to have representation from that particular region of Canada trumped the need to have a qualified assessor?  Perhaps the chair of the Adjudication Committee should have insisted to the FoB officer in charge that this person be sent back home immediately?  Certainly, the other members of the Committee should have overridden the bias of this particular unqualified gatekeeper.  I often wonder about the outcomes in terms of the graduate students who were subjected to this unacceptable behaviour … 

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

In Thought Box 2, you will find another vignette of a case in which there were problems in honouring Standards of best practices in psychology.  At least 23 ethical Standards can be seen as having relevance.  Although fewer than in the first dilemma (Thought Box 1), the Standards that have been breached are very serious ones that have far-reaching implications.

Thought Box 2

What’s Wrong with This Picture?


At a doctoral student’s dissertation defence, the student’s supervisor noticed that no credit had been given to a colleague who had made substantive contributions to the student’s thinking and work, to the point even of having sent the student the page proofs of their new book.  This happened despite the supervisor having instructed the student to give due credit to the colleague in draft after draft after draft of the dissertation.  The supervisor drew this omission to the attention of the examining committee and to the student, stipulating that the student must acknowledge this contribution and add the appropriate references.  The student did not defend their behaviour and in fact did not even respond at all.   None of the examining committee members backed the supervisor.  In the end, the final version of the dissertation submitted for binding did not contain the requisite changes.


Interestingly, the following year, the student’s supervisor attended a book display at the CPA Convention and picked up a book that fell within her/his areas of interest and expertise.  The supervisor was shocked when s/he opened the book to a chapter based on that dissertation, authored by the former student, and co-authored by another colleague who had had nothing to do with the dissertation, and who had not even been on the student’s supervisory committee.  There was not even an acknowledgement of the supervisor’s very substantial contributions to the research.  In fact, there was no acknowledgement section at all, so even the fact that the student had been supported by a SSHRC doctoral fellowship went unrecognized.

In the Thought Box 2, I provided information regarding the follow-up to illustrate the effect on subsequent behaviour of the first incident having been mishandled.  In the end, the student got away with the unethical behaviour, and was in fact rewarded for it with her/his doctorate, so psychology’s learning theories would predict that the behaviour would have been reinforced and repeated, and voila!


The people involved and affected by this behaviour are, of course, the student, the supervisor, and the rest of the examining committee.  Certainly, given that her/his insistence that credit be given where credit was due went unaddressed, the dignity of the student’s supervisor has been compromised both by the student and by the rest of the examining committee.  And let’s not forget about the impact on the supervisor, and even on the student, of awarding of co-authorship to someone who had not even been involved with the research.  As the dissertation and the subsequent publication would likely be accessed by the colleague who had shared their work so generously, the supervisor’s reputation and the reputation of the department are likely to suffer and it would be unlikely that this colleague would ever again trust the supervisor or be so generous as to share their work with anyone in that department of psychology again.  If any other students learned about these machinations, it could potentially have an impact on their ethical behaviour down the line as well.  If these behaviours became public, the reputation of the discipline would be called into question and funding for psychological research could be imperilled.


Although, by my calculation, there are a total of 23 Standards expanding from each of the four Principles that have relevance, in this instance it is the Principle of Integrity in Relationships that was most involved in this situation.  As mentioned before, this is my favourite Principle.  To my mind, it is the linchpin Principle for, without integrity in relationships, respect for the dignity (and welfare) of others is impossible, responsible caring is impossible, and our contract with society could not possibly be honoured.  So, for this dilemma, my focus is on the Standards that are subsumed under Principle III (Table 6).


Table 6

Principle III  Integrity in Relationships

Standards Relevant to Thought Box 2

(Canadian Psychological Association, 2017)


III.1     Not knowingly participate in, condone, or be associated with dishonesty, fraud, misappropriation, or misrepresentation.
III.5     Accurately represent their own and their colleagues’ activities, functions, contributions, and likely or actual outcomes of their activities (including research results) in all spoken, written, electronic, or printed communication. …
III.6     Ensure that their own and their colleagues’ activities, functions, contributions, and likely or actual outcomes of their activities (including research results)are not misrepresented by others, and act quickly to correct any such misrepresentation.
III.7     Take credit only for the work and ideas that they have actually done or generated, and give credit for work done or ideas contributed by others (including students and trainees), in proportion to their contribution.
Objectivity/lack of bias
III.9     Evaluate how their own experiences, attitudes, culture, beliefs, values, individual differences, specific training, external pressures, personal needs, and historical, economic, and political context might influence their activities and thinking, integrating this awareness into their attempts to be as objective and unbiased as possible in their research, service, teaching, supervision, employment, evaluation, adjudication, editorial, and peer review activities.
Avoidance of conflict of interest
III.24   Not exploit any relationship established as a psychologist to further personal, political, or business interests at the expense of the dignity or well-being of their primary clients, contract examinees, research participants, students, trainees, employers, or others. …
Reliance on the discipline
III.33   Familiarize themselves with their discipline’s rules and regulations, and abide by them. …
III.34   Familiarize themselves with and take into account their discipline’s guidelines and best practices for their area(s) of activity, and demonstrate a commitment to maintaining the standards of their discipline.
III.35   Seek consultation from colleagues and/or appropriate others, including advisory groups, and give due regard to their advice in arriving at a responsible decision, if faced with difficult situations.
Extended responsibility
III.36   Encourage others, in a manner consistent with this Code, to relate with integrity.
III.37   Assume overall responsibility for the scientific and professional activities of their assistants, employees, supervisees, students, and trainees with regard to the Principle of Integrity in Relationships, all of whom, however, incur similar obligations.

 Honesty is the Best Policy?  Obviously Not According to This Psychologist

We have explored the ramifications of not abiding by the Standards in relation to the incidents described in Thought Box 2, but I have to share with you another incident that I witnessed.  It is only indirectly related to the issues implicated by the behaviours described in Thought Box 2, but it is very directly related to Principle III:


A very famous psychologist was invited to give a colloquium in a psychology department.  S/he was noted especially for a seminal article that turned around people’s thinking on a particular issue.  After the colloquium, this pillar of the psychological community held a conversation session attended mostly by graduate students.  In this session, s/he confessed that s/had made up the entire article, had never conducted the research in which so many other psychologists had placed their trust, and that s/he frequently made up data or studies in order to win an argument.


Of course, s/he might have been lying then too. … 

Tips for Conducting Research Ethically

Since both of our Thought Boxes, thus far, have dealt with research, and since research is one of the most heavily weighted functions of an academic psychologist, it is appropriate, at this juncture, to expand upon how to conduct your research ethically.  One of the bottom lines that you can use in considering whether the research that you are proposing meets our ethical Standards (as well as evaluating the research that is already in the literature) is whether or not you would subject someone you love to your planned manipulations.  Are they going to be bored out of their minds for two hours?  Are they going to be in physical or psychological pain in the service of your curiosity?  Are you deceiving them about the true purpose of your research?  If your answer to any of these three questions is yes, you had better re-think your methodology, as well as your goals (Standards III.23-25).  Another rule of thumb that you can use is to remember that you must return your research participants back to the “real world” from which they came in the same condition as, or preferably in better condition than the one in which they came to you (Standard II.39).

The Myth of Objectivity:  The Whole is More Than the Sum of Its Parts

Psychology is almost phobic of the subjective; yet it is virtually impossible to be totally objective about anything.  We are the product of all our experiences and these experiences are not merely additive.  They interact with each other in complex ways.  Not only that, but they affect our perceptions, cognitions, attitudes, emotions, and, ultimately, our biases and behaviour.  How does this affect our research?  Your experiences, including all of your courses and training, affect how you approach research, your theoretical orientation, what research questions are of interest to you, how you formulate your research questions, how you evaluate the literature, whether or not you are even-handed in your critiques of those who agree with your hypotheses versus those who disagree, what methodologies you adopt to test your hypotheses (e.g., quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods), how you analyze your data, how you interpret and discuss your results, which journal you choose for submitting your manuscript, and how you handle critiques of your work.  (See Standard III.9 in Table 6 for how this is described in our Code.).


For example, unconsciously, you may, be harsher on the work of those who disagree with your approach or your findings than you are on those who agree with you.  Or you may slant your discussion or conclusions in such a way that they are consistent with your biases rather than with your results.  We replicated an American study of attitudes towards and accuracy of information about women held by psychiatrists.  We found that, based on our results, we could not come to the same conclusions as those come to by the authors of the original study.  Could it really be that Canadian psychiatrists were so much more liberal and accurate than were American psychiatrists?  We thought not.  Sure enough, there were no significant differences between our data and their data, but when we examined their Discussion section we found that a content analysis revealed an overwhelming negative bias against psychiatrists on the part of the authors of the American study, a pre-existing negative bias not based on their results (Stark-Adamec, & Graham, 1985).


You also may reject certain approaches to research, based on misperceptions or misinformation about those approaches.  The bottom line here is that you must choose the method that is most relevant to the provision of answers to your research questions; furthermore, you must not let the tail wag the dog—you must not let your favourite research methods drive the research questions that you ask.  Rather, you should let your research questions “wag” your research methods.  You may choose to disregard anything that was published more than, say, five or, at a stretch, 10 years ago, thereby missing out on some important earlier insights that could have had a beneficial impact on your work.  You may consider that the only good articles are published in, say, American journals, thereby missing out on important insights contained in articles published in, say, Canadian, European, or Asian journals.


Given all these entry points for biases and unethical behaviour, how can psychologists ever conduct research ethically?  Once again, our Code comes to the rescue.  A quote from the Values Statement for Principle III is very relevant here:

Psychologists are not expected to be value-free or totally without self-interest in conducting their activities.  However, they are expected to understand how their own experiences, attitudes, culture, beliefs, values, individual differences, specific training, external pressures, personal needs, and historical, economic, and political context interact with their activities, to be open and honest about the influence of such factors, and to be as objective as possible under the circumstances.

(CPA, 2017, Principle III, Values Statement)

So self -awareness, openness, and honesty are key factors in all of a psychologist’s activities, if we are to be conducting ourselves ethically.


Random samples are often used, in psychology, as an indication that one has achieved representativeness and the assumption is made that the results of the study can therefore be generalized to everyone and her brother.  But the achievement of representativeness in psychological studies is a bit of a myth too.  First and foremost, even if one has attempted to get a true random sample, one cannot coerce people to be participants in your research; we have absolutely no idea whether the people who did not volunteer to participate, or who outright refused, would respond to your research manipulations or questions in the same way as those who did participate.  That is acceptable, if recognized, and if one does not over-generalize to the populations and peoples of the world at large.


But not all of the research that you conduct needs to have samples that are representative of the entire population.  It could be that what you need is a representative (to the degree possible) sample of a particular sub-population.  This is called purposive sampling.  For example, I was interested in the stress experienced by women working in academic settings, their coping strategies, and their perceived advantages and disadvantages of being a woman working in academia.  I was not interested in comparing the stress experienced by men in contrast to the stress experienced by women, or the coping strategies used by women in academia compared to the coping strategies used by women working in other settings or unemployed women, so the populations that I sampled from were female faculty members, female graduate students, female secretaries, and female university librarians in four regions of Canada (Stark[-Adamec] 1995c).  When invited to do ride-alongs with police officers, I discovered that the research literature on policing, being primarily American, did not reflect the Canadian experience.  So I conducted sequential mixed methods research with police officers in departments of varying sizes in six different police jurisdictions in Canada because it was the Canadian experience that interested me; I had no interest in comparing the stress levels of Canadian and American police officers as the goal was to discover the nature of the Canadian experience (Stark, 1992).  I had originally proposed research with police, fire, and emergency medical services, but discovered, during the participant observation phases, that I could more accurately relate to the functions and humour of police officers than I could those of workers in the other two first responder categories.  Eventually, I narrowed the scope down to canine policing (Stark, 1996, 1998), but only after working with police officers in other specialties.  The take-home ethics message here is that it is essential that you opt to work with samples of the populations to which you intend to generalize your results, rather than with samples of convenience merely because they are convenient.  (Note that I have been saying research with rather than research on.  This reflects the fact that we conduct research only with the co-operation and collaboration of our research participants.  Furthermore, it distances us from the pretence of complete objectivity.)

Uses and Abuses of Statistics

Since its inception as a discipline separate from philosophy in the late 19th century (Sinclair, 2017), psychologists have amassed millions upon millions of numbers representing data points gathered from human participants in our research endeavours.  The totality of these numbers is far too massive to wrap our heads around and to represent accurately, even from one research study, so we often use descriptive and analytical statistics as tools for this purpose.  If we are to use statistical tools appropriately and ethically, we must heed several caveatsFirst, we have converted people’s experiences, thoughts, perceptions, affects, and behaviours to numbers—which is the only way that we can apply statistics to them—so we must always be aware that we have removed ourselves one step from those experiences that interest us, and that the numbers, in and of themselves, have no inherent meaning.  Secondly, when we are looking at potential differences between, for example, two samples or two experimental conditions, we have to be mindful of the origins of statistical significance in probability theory. Although often interpreted incorrectly, a p-value should be interpreted as the likelihood that the results of a study were obtained by chance, assuming that the null hypothesis is true.  So, for example, if we achieve significance at the .05 level, it means that five times out of 100 we would get the same difference, or correlation, purely by chance.  That should be a sobering thought when we are dealing with conclusions that may have an actual impact on real people’s lives.  Thirdly, we must always remember that statistical significance is not isomorphic with psychological significance.  Fourthly, we must remind ourselves that each statistical tool has underlying assumptions (e.g., that the data will be normally distributed) which take us one step further removed from the experiences we are interested in.  Furthermore, if the stipulated conditions for the use of the statistic are not met, we have abused the statistic and our conclusions based on our analyses will be baseless.  This abuse is more easily arrived at since the availability of statistical packages/programmes for laptops, tablets, and other personal devices has become more widespread.  It is so easy to have the results of statistical manipulations of your data (and keep in mind that they are manipulations) spew out in a manner of seconds that oftentimes the underlying assumptions are ignored.  It is your ethical duty to ensure that the conclusions you draw are rooted in a solid foundation and you can only ensure that if you examine your data in light of the assumptions associated with the statistic you have chosen for your analysis.


I have an example of the abuse of statistics to give you.  Two researchers claimed that you could predict complex partial seizures non-invasively on the basis of a subset of their questionnaire.  They had performed a factor analysis on their data and made a big deal of the fact that they had discovered a very large first factor and a much smaller second factor.  If accurate, their findings could have the potential of benefitting a substantial number of patients by either ruling out complex partial seizures or ruling them in.  Many were, understandably, very excited.  However, the researchers had not used any rotations while plugging their data into a packaged statistical programme which is a necessary step, depending on your research question and design, for making sound conclusions.  The programme will not shout at you:  Hey!  You forgot to rotate the factors!   Or, Correlation does not equal causation!  If you do not specify a rotation, you will always get a very large first factor accounting for a lot of the variance in your data, and a smaller second factor.  Given the potential import of the study for patients who need an accurate diagnosis, I was fortunate to be funded to conduct a replication of the initial findings during a time when replications were not typically funded.  Demonstrating the importance and responsibility of understanding the tools that we use as researchers, my results did not replicate those in the first study. ,Sequelae:  I presented my study (Stark-Adamec, & Adamec, 1986), very calmly and “softly-softly”, at a conference with prominent researchers in that area in attendance.—including the first author of the other study.  My presentation was in an enormous auditorium and, from where I stood on the stage, I could just make out the people in the first few rows.  In presenting the rationale for my study, I was politely critical of the first study.  Half-way through my presentation, the first author of the other study stood up, looked at me directly, then dramatically stalked out of the auditorium.  After I had delivered my plenary address, a prominent epidemiologist came up to me and said:  If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!  I had to laugh (to myself) as I thought:  You just plagiarized Thumper’s mummy in the Disney movieBambi”! It is important that we are aware of, and attend to, our professional responsibilities! Further, we must be prepared to be accountable for our decisions.

Psychology has “Control Issues”

Related to statistical issues are issues of control in the design of your research.  Like objectivity and representativeness, the control that you can achieve is perhaps more illusory than real.  For instance, you cannot control the mood in which your participants come to your research and those moods might have an effect on their responses.  Say, for example, that they are sad because they just learned that their grandmother died, or they are anxious because they have an exam later in the week, or they are angry because they had a disagreement with their partner that morning, or they are irritable because they are trying to stop smoking.  You have no control over these moods, and probably do not even know what mood they are in when they come to you because you have not thought to ask them, but these moods could mean that they are distracted and that could affect their performance.


A real-life example of a control issue is that marihuana researchers conjectured that participants with prior experience with marihuana would have associated expectations that could affect the effects experienced in the laboratory.  Therefore, they attempted to “control for” the effects of expectations by selecting only participants who had never ever smoked (or otherwise ingested) marihuana before.  This was a rather ludicrous attempt to deal with the issue because, by definition, you are only a first-time user of the substance once in your life.  The results of their experiments could therefore only be generalized to first-time users, but that did not stop them from reporting their results as if they had uncovered the “pure and uncontaminated” effects of marihuana.  It made more sense to me, if prior experience really had an effect, to attempt to measure the expectations and to examine any potential effects, rather than controlling for any expectancy effects—so that is what I did (Stark-Adamec, Adamec, & Pihl, 1981; Stark-Adamec, & Pihl, 1980a, 1980b).  All research on marihuana effects, up to that point, had participants smoke alone (or even had marihuana injected into them) in a formal, sterile laboratory, and the drug and the tests were administered by a researcher who was “friendly but distant”—conditions which in no way resembled those in which people smoked marihuana in those days—all in the service of discovering the uncontaminated responses to marihuana.  In addition, all participants had been male because women constituted “messy variables”.  So I had participants smoke alone, in small groups of strangers, or in small groups of friends, in a relaxed and informal environment (with music if they wished) … and I included samples of women.  All of these extra-pharmacological variables (and others) had measurable and statistically, as well as psychologically, significant effects (Stark-Adamec, & Pihl, 1978, 1980a, 1980b; Stark-Adamec, et al., 1981; Stark-Adamec, Adamec, & Pihl, 1982).

Free and Informed Consent

It is essential, before you conduct any research with human participants, that you first gain their informed consent; furthermore, that consent must be given to you freely.  Thirteen of the 45 Standards within the Principle of Respect for the Dignity of Persons and Peoples applicable to non-clinical activities are relevant to issues surrounding consent to participate in your research, so it is obvious that this is an issue of significance for psychologists and students of psychology.  These have been listed for you in Table 7.


Table 7

Principle I  Respect for the Dignity of Persons and Peoples

Standards Related to Free and Informed Consent

(Canadian Psychological Association, 2017)


Informed consent
I.17      Recognize that obtaining informed consent is a process that involves taking time to establish an appropriate trusting relationship and to reach an agreement to work collaboratively, and may need to be obtained more than once. …
I.18      Respect the expressed wishes of individuals to involve others (e.g., family members, community members, community leaders) in their decisions regarding informed consent.
I.20      Obtain informed consent for all research activities that involve obtrusive observation or measures, invasion of privacy, risk of harm, or any attempt to change the behaviour of research participants.
I.21      If signed consent forms are required by law or desired by the psychologist, the individuals or groups giving consent, or the organization for whom the psychologist works, establish and use signed consent forms that specify the dimensions of informed consent or that acknowledge that such dimensions have been explained and are understood.
I.22      Accept and document non-written consent (e.g., oral, a verbal agreement, a handshake or other culturally normative exchange) in situations in which signed consent forms are not acceptable culturally or in which there are other good reasons for accepting non-written consent.
I.23      Provide, in obtaining informed consent, as much information as reasonable individuals and groups … would want to know before making a decision or consenting to the activity.  Typically, and as appropriate to the situation and context, this would include:  purpose and nature of the activity; mutual responsibilities; whether a team or other collaborators are involved; privacy and confidentiality limitations; risks and protections; likely risks and benefits of the activity, including any particular risks and benefits of the methods or communication modalities used; alternatives available; likely consequences of non-action; the option to refuse or withdraw at any time, without prejudice; over what period of time the consent applies; and how to rescind consent if desired.
I.24      Relay the information given in obtaining informed consent in language that the individuals and groups involved understand (including providing translation into another language, if necessary), and take whatever reasonable steps are necessary to ensure that the information is, in fact, understood.
I.25      Provide new information in a timely manner, whoever such information becomes available and is significant enough that it reasonably could be seen as relevant to the original or ongoing informed consent.
I.26      Clarify the nature of multiple relationships to all concerned parties, including collateral contacts, before obtaining consent, if providing services or conducting research at the request of or for the use of a retaining or other third party.  This would include, but not be limited to clarifying:  the purpose of the service or research; the role and responsibilities of the psychologist; the reasonably anticipated use that will be made of the information collected; access to records or the information contained therein; the limits of privacy and confidentiality; and any special legal requirements or limitations.  Third parties may include schools, employers, community, or organizational leaders, third-party payers, courts, government, police, and research funding bodies.
Freedom of consent
I.27      Take all reasonable steps to ensure that consent is not given under conditions of coercion, undue pressure, or undue reward.  (Also see Standard III.29.)
I.28      Not proceed with any research activity, if consent is given under any conditions of coercion, undue pressure, or undue reward.  (Also see Standard III.29.)
I.29      Take all reasonable steps to confirm or re-establish freedom of consent, if consent for service is given under duress or conditions of extreme need.
I.30      Respect the moral right of individuals and groups … to discontinue participation or service at any time, and be responsive to non-verbal indications of a desire to discontinue if the individuals or groups involved have difficulty with verbal communicating such a desire (e.g., young children, individuals with language disabilities or, due to culture, are unlikely to communicate such a desire orally).

There are several issues that merit emphasis or elaboration when it comes to informed and freely given consent.  When designing your consent forms, you rightly may feel proud of having spent years perfecting the language of psychologists and may want to show it off on your informed consent form.  However, this is one place where you should rein in that tendency (Standard I.24).  Even if you are very literate, the rule of thumb, here, is to aim your language at a Grade 8 level of literacy (Osgood, Suci, & Tannenbaum, 1957), in order to ensure that your participants fully comprehend what you are attempting to convey and what, precisely, they are letting themselves in for if they consent to participation.  For instance, in the preceding sentence, you would use understand rather than comprehend, trying rather than attempting, and communicate or tell them about rather than convey.


It is also noteworthy that not all consent need be granted in written form (Standard I.22).  For example, in the first part of my research on stress in Canadian policing, I used participant observation methods, and was partnered to actual police officers in six different Canadian police jurisdictions of varying size, working the same shifts and shift rotations as they did, doing what they did, observing what they observed, being subjected to what they were being subjected to, for over 4,000 hours on the streets, whether it was +40C or -40C.  Knowing that this sub-population would be reluctant to sign any consent forms that would be stored anywhere—no matter how securely—I explained to each potential partner the true purposes and methods of my research, orally, and asked their permission to be partnered to them, but did not require them to sign any informed consent forms (this with the blessing of the REB of my university).  I always gave them my university business card so that they could contact me down the line should they wish to withdraw their data (i.e., my observations) from my study; and, part way through the shift as well as at the end of the shift, I showed them my notes (fortunately, police officers take notes regarding all calls that they attend, so my note-taking was not an unusual or obtrusive behaviour).  I showed them my notes, in part so that they could correct any errors that I might have made, but also to help build their trust in me.


When informed consent forms are being used, however, a copy should be given to the participants.  In this way, the participants can refer back to the goals and methods of the research, will have the contact information of the REB should they have questions about the research, and will have your contact information in case they need to reschedule a session or if they want to withdraw from your study.


Note:  Your participants have the right to withdraw at any point in the process—even after they have completed their participation—and they have the right to do so without incurring any negative consequences (Standard I.30).  This may be particularly relevant in research employing interview techniques, especially if very confidential or upsetting information has been provided by your interviewees.  Research participants may have the research participant’s equivalent of “buyer’s remorse” and will need your contact information if they decide to withdraw from your study.  I have found it very useful, in terms of this issue but also for other reasons, to provide interviewees with copies of their transcripts to review and modify as they see fit (e.g., to correct inaccuracies, to add information, and to withdraw passages if necessary) and, essentially, to approve the transcript (See also Standards I.23, I.40, III.15, and III.23.). Providing interviewees with this opportunity can make them more likely not to withdraw their consent; instead, they are more likely to add information and to correct inaccuracies.  After all, what you want is as full and accurate a set of responses to your questions as possible—not whatever did or did not first come to their minds on that particular day.  One of the reasons that I instituted this policy in my lab is because I had experienced what it feels like to have disclosed, in a research interview, information that put me at considerable risk.  At the conclusion of the interview, I asked the interviewer to withdraw those passages and s/he refused.  I told her/him that I was withdrawing my consent to participate and s/he said that it was too late because I had already signed the consent form.  I never wanted even one of my participants (or one of my students’ participants) ever to feel as vulnerable as I had at that moment.


But informed consent forms, ensuring ongoing consent (Standard I.17), and ensuring that consent is given freely were not common practices in the 1950s and early 1960s. Extremely unfortunate consequences sometimes developed as a result of research conducted with human participants who were never informed that they were participating in research (e.g., who thought that they were being given therapy), and whose free and informed consent was never obtained.  There was a time when the samples of convenience were patients in psychiatric facilities and prisoners, rather than undergraduates in introductory psychology courses.  Samples of convenience are never a good idea if one wants to generalize the results beyond the sample to the wider public.  So, as the name states, they are indeed convenient—but certainly not representative.


The importance of informed consent, and harm that can come from lack of informed consent, can be highlighted with the following case. A series of research studies was conducted in the early 1960s by Ewan Cameron at the Allan Memorial Institute, affiliated with McGill University in Montreal.  According to reports, the research was partially funded by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), funnelled through the Cornell Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology (Collins, 1988; Marks, 1979).  In the service of what was called de-patterning of the brain, Cameron allegedly gave, at least some patients, LSD in large doses and/or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) sessions at 20-75 times the recommended levels.  This was done in an attempt to change their perceptions and to wipe out their memories.  Patients were then allegedly placed in an insulin-induced coma for up to 65 days during which he subjected them to what he termed psychic driving 16-24 hours/day.  A tape recorder was placed under their pillow and they were brainwashed by replacing their memories with what was on the tape loops.  It has been reported that one of the purposes of this research was to find a way of replacing existing identities with cover identities for deep-cover spies, but also to study brainwashing techniques.  It had little purpose in terms of the mental health of the patients.  The patients were unwitting participants in this research.  They did not give their consent to participate in this brainwashing experiment and were not even informed that this was research.


Although one might have argued that some so-called “mental patients” would not have had the capacity to provide valid consent, third-party consent was not sought—their family members were also not even informed that what their relatives were being subjected to was CIA-sponsored research into brainwashing.


The longstanding consequences of the research were devastating to the participants and to their families.  Neither the CIA, the American government, nor the Canadian government has admitted complicity or culpability, but some of Cameron’s victims and their affected family members have successfully sued the Canadian government for damages.  Note:  The above information was gleaned from two books (Collins, 1988; & Marks, 1979), as well as from two Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) documentaries aired on The Fifth Estate (1980; 1998).  There is considerable information regarding these experiments, including videotaped interviews with victims and their family members, available on the internet if you enter “ewen cameron” and “MK Ultra” as your search terms (the latter term was the CIA code name for the research).  As with any search, be sure to evaluate the quality of the sources that come up in your search.  Cameron had been the President of the American Psychiatric Association and of the Canadian Psychiatric Association.  He was also the first President of the World Psychiatric Association.  He died in 1967.


Today, based on our Code, deception and even partial disclosure are unacceptable:

Of special concern to psychologist is the provision of incomplete disclosure when conducting research for which informed consent is required (i.e., temporarily leading research participants to believe that a research project has a purpose other than its actual purpose; providing research participants with other false information).  These actions sometimes occur in research where full and accurate disclosure would likely influence the responses of the research participants and thus invalidate the results.  Although research that uses such techniques can lead to knowledge that is beneficial, such benefits need to be weighed against the research participant’s moral right to self-determination and the importance of public and personal trust in psychology.  Psychologists have a serious obligation to avoid as much as possible the use of such research procedures.  They also have a serious obligation to consider the need for, the possible consequences of, and their responsibility to correct any resulting mistrust or other harmful effects, when incomplete disclosure or deception is used.  (CPA, 2017, Principle III.  Values Statement)


Psychology has an unfortunate, but well-earned, reputation for deception, to the point that members of the public may distrust what the research psychologist tells them about the research in advance of their participation.  For example, such mistrust was evident in my marihuana research:  Participants were told that in the first week of their participation they would be given coltsfoot (C) to smoke and that this was to establish baselines on the measures.  They were also told that in the second week they would be given either a low dose (L) or a high dose (H) of marihuana to smoke, and that they would then get the other level of dose in the third week (so either CLH or CHL).  All of this was absolutely true, but some participants were so sure that I must be out to trick them that they were convinced that they had smoked marihuana in the first week and so got a mild high on the coltsfoot—especially if they were smoking in a group of friends (a social contagion effect).


Many years later, in the quantitative stage of my police stress research, there were a number of items on the questionnaire that I had developed on the basis of my 4,000+ hours of participant observation (and had checked with a representative sample of police officers to ensure that I was using police argot rather than psychology jargon) where variations on the wording of some questions were employed.  I explained to the officers, before they started filling out the questionnaire, that they would likely notice this, but that these were not trick questions, that the wording differed in order to capture real differences in the situations.  Sure enough, some participants commented to me that the reason that they had taken so long to fill out the questionnaire was because they knew that psychologists always employ lie scales in their questionnaires so they had to keep going back to check how they had answered the questions earlier.  Experiences such as these reinforce to me that our notoriety and society’s lack of trust in us can, and have persisted for decades and decades.

Contract Research

Special consideration must be given to Standard I.26 (Table 7) if one is engaged in contract research (e.g., drug trials, certain industrial/organisational psychology research, programme evaluation research, Department of National Defence research), where the research is funded by a group or organization with interest in the results and potential conflict of interest.  To whom is your greatest responsibility?  To the entity paying you or to the participants in your evaluative activities?  It would be ill-advised to enter into a contract in which you surrender your privileges of academic freedom of inquiry and of public dissemination of the results, or your ability to conduct the research ethically in other ways (see CPA, 2017, Standard IV.14).  Should you enter into a research contract, ensure that you have the freedom to modify the research design and that you have the freedom to disclose your results in a publicly-accessible article or monograph.  Being very used to what is called academic freedom in academic settings, one might assume that this freedom extends to any contract research into which you have opted.  That assumption may turn out to be incorrect.

Academic Freedom:  What it IS and What it is NOT

In academia we are protected from being fired “solely on the basis that we hold and voice dissenting, controversial, or near-psychotic views.  We are protected by academic freedom, as first articulated in the United States at the turn of the [last] century (Malloch, 1987), popularized in the 1940s (Poch, 1993), and as defined by the Canadian Association of University Teachers as the freedom ‘to teach, investigate and speculate without deference to prescribed doctrine’ .” (Stark, 1997a, p. 232).


Academic freedom is a treasured tenet and expectation in North American post-secondary education because it is felt to be necessary for—even vital to—an unfettered pursuit of knowledge.  But it is not academic license; it is a privilege with responsibilities, not a right to “do whatever we want and say whatever we want and write whatever we want whenever we want” (Stark, 1997a, p. 232).  So, there are limits on academic freedom.  Of concern to most academics is that these limits may be abused and become limitations (Malloch, 1987).  However, I share Cowan’s following concerns:

When academic freedom is extended without caveat … it opens up the prospect of a range of ‘protected’ behaviors (sic) which interfere mightily with the well-being of others, as well as their ability to carry out their own work.  Simply put, there is no academic freedom to harass.  There is no academic freedom to be disruptive. … There is no academic freedom to intimidate, there is no academic freedom to interfere with the academic freedom of others … (Cowan, 1994, cited in Hornosty, 1995, p. 46)

In my view, there is another caveat needed, viz.:  Psychologists have a duty to temper their academic freedom with respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, responsible caring, integrity in relationships, and responsibility to society.  Sound familiar?


Students, too, have academic freedom that they may not be aware of.  For example, you must not be penalized (e.g., with low or failing marks, or public ridicule) for expressing views that are in opposition to those of your instructor merely because they differ from those of your instructor (as long as you have backed up your claims with evidence and sound reasoning, of course).  But, once again, your academic freedom is not academic license and you bear the same responsibilities as do your instructors.

Thought Box 3

What’s Wrong with This Picture?


I submitted what I knew would be a controversial presentation to an international association’s convention and, much to my surprise, they made me a Plenary Address speaker and gave me one and a half hours of programme time with no other sessions scheduled concurrently.  I was one of only two Canadians at the conference and one of only three women.


Knowing how threatening the issue was for this particular audience, I spoke into the microphone slowly, in a soft voice, and ensured that there was no emotion displayed on my face or in my voice.  You could have heard a pin drop on the carpeted floor of the amphitheatre throughout my presentation.


There was an official Discussant assigned to my talk.  However, the founder of the association, as soon as I stopped talking, very slowly and dramatically, descended from the top of the amphitheatre, came up on the stage, stood directly in front of me with his back to me, and announced to the gathered scholars:  There will be no discussion of this presentation!  So much for academic freedom, thought I.


At the closing banquet that night, no one would sit with me or talk to me—with two exceptions.  When I walked, alone, up to the dessert table, across the length of the banquet hall after everyone else had picked up their desserts, one man dramatically intercepted me and announced to me (and to the scholarly diners):  Don’t worry.  We won’t hold this against your husband!  We know that HE’s a good scientist.  The next day, as I was killing time on the grounds of the conference site, waiting to leave for the airport, the only other man who would talk to me confided to me that the Discussant, who had been sitting beside him during my presentation, had whispered to him I’m going to DESTROY her!

The incident described in Thought Box 3 is a perfect example of the tenets of academic freedom not being adhered to because, as I was later told, what I had presented so calmly was threatening to them.  I knew that what I was presenting would be controversial, but this dramatic reaction came as a shock to me.  Not only is this a blatant example of curtailing academic freedom when what is presented is not what you want to hear, but it is also a prime example of academic violence.  Sequelae:  All of the proceedings of the conference were to be published as a monograph.  However, I was later informed that they had decided not to publish the presentations after all.  I do not know whether I was the only one to be silenced in that fashion or even whether they published all of the other presentations another way, but I published my presentation elsewhere. The whole scenario was so ludicrous that it was almost laughable.  Almost …

Authorship Issues

Authorship of publications is a valuable commodity in academia:  Faculty members need them for proof of productivity for granting agencies and for consideration for promotion.  Students need them to begin to establish their names in the field and to give a kick-start to their careers.  The issues of who gets first authorship and who gets co-authorship or any authorship at all are often thorny ones, but they need not be at all.  I recall that one prominent researcher was the first author on all publications arising from work in her/his laboratory, so s/he had hundreds upon hundreds of publications, far too many for her/him to have authored—so many that one wondered whether s/he had even had the time to read them, let alone write them.  I was told that s/he expected first authorship in exchange for what s/he believed was the privilege of working in her/his lab.  I also was told that this practice was more common in Europe (particularly in Germany) than in North America, but I am uncertain of the veracity of these two statements.  Perhaps, if this is made clear right from the start, one could choose whether or not it is worth it to hand over ownership of one’s intellectual property in exchange for being able to put on one’s curriculum vitae that one worked in this lab, but it still smacks of intellectual dishonesty to me.  Some supervisors attempt to solve this problem by discussing the authorship issue with their students at the outset and coming to a determination as to the order of authorship at that point.  However, it may not be clear before the research is initiated just who will have contributed what by the end of the research process, so it is best to build some flexibility into this social contract.  Does our Code provide us with any guidance with respect to these issues?  Fortunately, it does and I have reproduced some of the key relevant Standards from Principle III in Table 8.


Table 8

Authorship Credit Standards:  Principle III Integrity in Relationships

(Canadian Psychological Association, 2017)


III.2     Accurately represent their own and their colleagues’ qualifications … in all spoken, written, or printed communications, being careful not to use descriptions or information that could be misinterpreted …
III.5     Accurately represent their own and their colleagues’ activities, functions, contributions, and likely or actual outcomes of their activities (including research results) in all spoken, written, electronic, or printed communication.  …
III.6     Ensure that their own and their colleagues’ activities, functions, contributions, and likely or actual outcomes of their activities (including research results) are not misrepresented by others, and act quickly to correct any such misrepresentation.
III.7     Take credit only for the work and ideas that they have actually done or generated, and give credit for work done or ideas contributed by others (including students and trainees), in proportion to their contributions.

When I was Department Head, a graduate student came to see me.  S/he was very upset because s/he had accidentally discovered that her/his MA thesis supervisor had submitted the research that s/he had conducted for her thesis to an international convention on another continent and s/he wanted to know whether or not this was acceptable as the faculty member had listed her/himself as the first author and had done this without the student’s consent or even her/his knowledge.  When I asked the faculty member why s/he had assumed first authorship on the student’s work, the faculty member stated that the person presenting the work had to appear as the first author in the conference programme and that s/he assumed that the student would not be able to afford to travel so far.  I requested help from the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research who decided to pay for the student to attend the far-away conference.  A correction was made to the convention’s programme, but I do not know whether or not the work was published with appropriate authorship.


In another instance of ethically questionable conduct, a faculty member hired graduate students to conduct literature searches and write grant proposals and articles that s/he then claimed ownership of.  When questioned about this behaviour s/he claimed that, because s/he had paid them for their work, they couldn’t claim authorship or even an acknowledgement.  What’s wrong with that picture?!  Of course, taken to its logical extreme, this would mean that the faculty member, too, couldn’t claim authorship—given that s/he was drawing a salary from the university.

Respectful Language

We are exhorted to use language that is respectful of the dignity of others in several of the Standards of our Code (see Table 9).  It had long been the practice in psychology to refer to those who loan you their hearts and minds and bodies in order for you to push back the frontiers of knowledge as subjects or, worse yet, as Ss.  You, in turn, were referred to, often inaccurately, as experimenters or Es, even if your research methods did not include an experiment.  The abbreviations were, no doubt, appreciated by journals because space = $$, but referring to participants as subjects is now considered demeaning and dehumanizing, while the use of interviewees, respondents, or participants is not.  There is also an aspect of artificial distancing of the researcher from the participant in the use of the term subject, as if one is not really dealing with a living, breathing, thinking, feeling human being, and as if one could be more “objective” if one does not acknowledge that these people are humans who deserve respect (Standard I.3).  (Also consult discussion of objectivity, above.)  You will have noted that our Code uses the term participants throughout.



Table  9

Standards Regarding Respectful Language Use

(Canadian Psychological Association, 2017)


General respect
I.1        Demonstrate appropriate respect for the knowledge, insight, experience, areas of expertise, and cultural perspectives and values of others, including those that are different from their own, limited only by those that seriously contravene the ethical principles of this Code.
I.2        Not engage publicly (e.g., in public statements, presentations, research reports, with primary clients or other contacts) in degrading comments about others, including demeaning jokes based on such characteristics as culture, nationality, ethnicity, colour, race, religion, sex, gender, or sexual orientation.
I.3        Strive to use language that conveys respect for the dignity of persons and people as much as possible in all spoken, written, electronic, or printed communication.

But Standards I.1I.3 have implications that you may not have considered—especially as they are also relevant to anonymous course evaluations and online blog postings (anonymous or otherwise).  During the many years that I served as a department head, during which time I had to read all of the anonymous course evaluations for each member of my department, I was shocked by how disrespectful—even venomous—and/or irrelevant (e.g., I HATE his motorcycle jackets or I LOVE her hair) some of the comments were (I will forego repeating any of the disrespectful and venomous comments).  Anonymity frees one from accountability and this can lead to unethical conduct.  Strangely, those making such comments always seemed to claim that their marks in the course were 80% or above, perhaps figuring that the comments would be dismissed if it were known that they were not doing well in the course.  I never shared these types of comments when discussing my evaluation of the faculty member’s performance with them.  However, where constructive criticism (or praise) was levelled, I certainly made note of it in my evaluation.


I also cannot count the number of times that students have come to me in tears as a result of online bullying, spiteful comments, or rumour-mongering by fellow students.  Remember that rumour-mongering is a form of academic violence (Stark[-Adamec], 1995a) and that any form of violence in academia is unacceptable.


Examine the last two Standards for each Principle.  In each instance, you will find them under Extended responsibilityNote that, although your instructors and supervisors have a responsibility to encourage their students, employees, trainees, and supervisees to act in accordance with our Code, you, in turn, bear similar obligations.


One way of demonstrating respect in your language use is to be inclusive when you can.  So, for example, you would use Chair or Chairperson rather than Chairman (or Chairwoman), firefighter rather than fireman, police officer rather than policeman (or policewoman), but also First Nations rather Indian, Inuit rather than Eskimo, women rather than ladies or girls when referring to adults (and certainly rather than any of the derogatory and/or anatomical swear words used in reference to women).  After all, what does it cost any of us to show this type of respect?

Specific Additional Issues of Significance

There a number of additional issues that merit attention but that space restrictions do not permit me to address in detail.  However, I have selected a few of the very crucial ones to which I need to alert you and have expanded on them below.

Special Populations

The contexts of cultures.  The 1986 Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists was one of the first codes of ethics for psychologists that:

… moved from an assumption that activities related to psychology involved primarily only individuals and instead include multiple references to groups, families, and communities.  (It was also) one of the first national ethics codes to state that psychologists had an ethical responsibility to be knowledgeable about and to respect cultures and cultural expectations when working with individuals, groups, or communities.

(Sinclair, 2011, p. 154)

This was, in part, due to:

… complaints made [prior to 1982] by Canada’s indigenous peoples about the way researchers from various disciplines had conducted themselves when carrying out research with members of their communities.  At the very least, researcher conduct indicated a lack of knowledge about indigenous cultures; more serious, however, were complaints about the insensitivity and lack of respect shown by researchers toward the cultural beliefs, practices, and expectations of members of Canada’s indigenous communities.

(Sinclair, 2011, p. 155; parenthetical information added)


Of particular relevance to treating First Nations peoples with respect are Standards I.18, I.22, and I.30.Psychologists have had much to learn about and from First Nations cultures and peoples.  This new knowledge has contributed to a better understanding of how to treat persons and peoples from differing cultural origins with the respect that is their due, for it is not only First Nations cultures to which we may have been insensitive.  The population of Canadian residents is no longer of “indigenous, French, and British origin … (B)y the late 1990s, only 55% of Canadian residents were from these backgrounds” (Sinclair, 2011, p. 156).


But it is not only with regard to the cultural origins of our research participants that we have been insensitive.  Too often, psychologists may display a kind of arrogance regarding people’s experience, perceptions, and thoughts.  So, for example, we may assume that we are the experts on their lives, that “we know better” than they do how they feel, what they need, how they think when, in fact, they are the experts on their own lives.  This is particularly evident in research with patients, with seniors, and with police, as well as with lower income families.  Even the lumping together of everyone over the age of 55—as if they represented only one demographic—is disrespectful.


Vulnerable persons or peoples.  We have gone over the importance of free and informed consent, but not everyone is capable of providing consent.  So an entire section of the Standards under Respect for the Dignity of Persons and Peoples is devoted to best practices and protections for consent procedures with vulnerable individuals and groups (Standards I.31-36 and I.18).  Oftentimes, it is necessary for you to obtain what is called third-party or substitute consent.  This would be the case if, for example, you wanted to conduct observation of the play behaviours of children at a nursery school or the feeding procedures for patients with advanced Alzheimer’s in a seniors’ residence.  In the former instance, you would need the permission of the nursery school supervising teacher and the head of the school, but you would also need the free and informed consent of the parents of the children involved.  In the latter example, you would need the permissions of, at a minimum, the head of the residence, any supervising nurses or aides, and the free and informed consent of a family member or someone who had power of attorney for consent.  However, you should also get the assent of those who are to be observed.  This assent need not be in writing, but you must be sensitive to the withdrawal of assent that can become evident in the nonverbal behaviour of those who are being observed as well, just as you would be sensitive to the withdrawal of consent among those whose cultural norms might inhibit more direct expressions of the desire to put a stop to the observation.


There is, however, a different set of vulnerable individuals who are vulnerable despite being able, legally, to provide informed consent.  These are people who are in a dependent relationship to the researcher, e.g., students, employees, trainees (Standard, I.36).  So you have to be particularly cautious in these instances.

Supervision and Teaching

You are likely some years away from teaching or supervising students, so you might wonder why I have devoted a section to this topic.  It is important, however, that you be alerted to some of the (at least) 78 relevant Standards so that you will know what you have a right to expect of your professors.


For instance, you have a right to a safe learning environment, free of harassment or ridicule based on your sex, your sexual preference, your culture, your worldview, your religious beliefs (or lack thereof), your political views, your race, or your disabilities, and free of exploitation.  You have a right to be evaluated fairly.  You have a right to instruction and supervision that is au courant with the latest information in the field.  You have a right to privacy and confidentiality, and must not be pressured into disclosing information about your own experiences and feelings that you are not comfortable in sharing (Stark, 2011).  You are entitled to a degree of academic freedom.  You are encouraged to speak out against injustices, to correct misinterpretations or misperceptions of psychological constructs.  You are expected to engage in both self-reflection and self-care in order to make ethical decisions.  You are expected to work towards the better good, and to do so without harming others.


Should you care to explore any of these issues in greater depth, you can look up the following Standards in our Code, available online, for free at https://www.cpa.ca/docs/File/Ethics/CPA_Code_2017_4thEd.pdf

Respect for the Dignity of Persons and Peoples:  I.1-13, I.38, I.46-47;

Responsible Caring:  II. 1-12, II.14, II.18-22, II.25-29, II.32-33, II.35-37, II.55-56;

Integrity in Relationships:  III.4, III.5, III.11, III.28, III.30, III, 36-37;

Responsibility to Society:  IV.1-5, IV.7-17, IV.20-30.

You are also invited to access our guidelines for ethical supervision in teaching, research, practice, and administration (Pettifor, McCarron, Schoepp, Stark, & Stewart, 2010; Pettifor, Stewart, McCarron, Schoepp, & Stark, 2011).  I elaborate on one set of these issues, below.


Sexual liaisonsIt is never okay for supervisors, or others in a position of power and influence, to have an affair or sexual relationship with their subordinates.  This holds whether you are male or female.  The people on whom this type of behaviour has an impact would be, for instance, the other people in the office or the other students in the course.  They couldn’t help but wonder whether the supervisor was playing favourites, giving unearned pay raises to the object of their affection/attention, giving higher marks to the favoured one.  And what happens to the dynamics of the work and learning atmospheres if they break up?


More importantly, however, when there is a power differential between the two parties—as there would inevitably be in these cases—it constitutes abuse of power and is thus unethical.  The relevant Principles are II: Responsible Caring and III:  Integrity in Relationships.  See Table 10 for the articulation of these Principles via the relevant Standards.


Table 10

Principles and Standards Related to Sexual Harassment,

Sexual Coercion, and Abuse of Power

(Canadian Psychological Association, 2017)



II Responsible Caring:  Minimize harm.
II.29    Not encourage or engage in sexual intimacy with students, trainees, or others with whom the psychologist has an evaluative or other relationship of direct authority.  (Also see Standard III.28.)
III  Integrity in Relationships:  Avoidance of conflict of interest
III.9     Evaluate how their own experiences, attitudes, culture, beliefs, values, individual differences, specific training, external pressures, personal needs, and historical, economic, and political context might influence their activities and thinking, integrating this awareness into their attempts to be as objective and unbiased as possible in their research, service, teaching, supervision, employment, evaluation, adjudication, editorial, and peer review activities.
III.28   Not exploit any relationship established as a psychologist to further personal, political, or business interests at the expense of the dignity or well-being of their primary clients, contract examinees, research participants, students, trainees, employees, or others. 
III.30   Avoid dual or multiple relationships (e.g., with primary clients, contract examinees, research participants, employees, supervisees, students, trainees) that are not justified by the nature of the activity, by cultural or geographic factors, or where there is a lack of reasonably accessible alternatives.
III.31   Manage dual or multiple relationships or any other conflict-of-interest situation entered into in such a way that bias, lack of objectivity, and risk of exploitation and harm are minimized.  …

It sometimes can be difficult to deal with these cases.  It can be difficult for those in subordinate positions to find a safe place to voice their concerns and they may feel embarrassed or ashamed.  Furthermore, the abuser of power may have threatened the subordinate with reprisals if they were to lodge a complaint (I recall more than one instance in which the abuser claimed to be very well connected globally and told the person under their power that, if they were to lodge a complaint, s/he would make sure that the student would never be accepted into any graduate school anywhere).   Illustrating the importance of awareness of sexual harassment, coercion and abuses of power, in one example, each year a specific university’s sexual harassment committee received information about a faculty member’s unacceptable conduct.  Each year, the complaints were brought to the Administration.  Each year, the Administration did not act.  But finally, an important and critical change in the Administration, paired with smartphone evidence, allowed the Administration to act.  The faculty member was given their marching papers in short order.  So the problem was solved for future students at one university in Canada.  Cases such as these illustrate the responsibility Administrators have to ensure that there is no abuse of power, and the power of individuals serving in administration to do the right thing. However, I always worried about what it would take to ensure that this repeat offender did not prey on students elsewhere.

Blind Faith in Peer Review:  The Gatekeepers of Science

We have already seen how personal biases and outright ignorance can have a negative impact on access to the funding of research (discussion of Thought Box 1) and, therefore on the advancement of knowledge and of our understanding of persons and peoples.  But the gatekeepers of what happens to the end products of our research, i.e., the publication of our results, have also been shown to be fallible—whether or not we are talking about open reviews, single-blind reviews, or double-blind reviews (e.g., Hojat, Gonnella, & Caelleigh [2003]; Peters  & Ceci [1982]; Smith [2006]).  I highly recommend that you access Smith’s article on the experiments that he and others conducted with manuscripts submitted to the British Medical Journal during his tenure as Editor there.  His article is just delightful and you can access it for free on the internet.  You may also be interested in Ceci and Peters (nd) explanation of why and how Peters and Ceci conducted their 1982 study, and the problems that they encountered trying to publish it, not to mention the consequences to them of their whistle-blowing (e.g., one of them was denied tenure!).  The Ceci and Peters (nd) paper is published in an open access journal, so you can access the full article for free.  (See the References list for where to access it, or use “Ceci and Peters” as your internet search terms.)


There is so much at stake in the publication game:  Without publications, access to future funding may be limited, so future advancement of our fields of knowledge would be hampered.  Then there is the “publish or perish” scene in some academic institutions where numbers of publications may trump the quality of the work.  These biases, and others, are operative in the decision making for hiring, promotion, and the granting of tenure.  This is an area of the academic enterprise that could use a lot of guidance from the CPA Code.


Even Nobel Laureates have had seminal work in their fields rejected for publication, so if you get a rejection notice from the journal in which you wanted to publish your exciting findings, you have to “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again”.

Responsibility to Society (Principle IV)

We function, as psychologists and students of psychology, in a social context and we have a social contract with the society within which we operate.  In exchange for the freedom to receive public funding (e.g., university salaries, scholarships, teaching assistantships, research grants, heated, cooled, and structurally sound buildings in which to work), in order to be able to conduct research, to publish, to teach, and to have the freedom to learn, our society has a right to expect something in return.  In exchange for these privileges, we are expected not to defraud the public (e.g., not to use our grant funds for purposes other than the proposed research, and associated expenses); we are expected not to exploit others (e.g., research participants, students, colleagues); we are expected to hold ourselves to a higher standard than we expect of others; we are expected to be open and honest and to treat others with respect, we are expected to recognize and respect individual and collective differences; we are expected to speak out against injustices and to advocate for evidence-based change in systemic discrimination and injustice.  In other words, we are expected to conduct ourselves ethically in all that we do as psychologists and students of psychology; that is to behave in accordance with the standards that operationalize the principles of respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, responsible caring, integrity in relationships, and responsibility to society.  Drawing on these principles, I see a particular responsibility that I call Giving Back and Paying Forward.


Giving back and paying forwardI believe that research participants should be recompensed in some way that recognizes and thanks them for having loaned you their minds and their time, as it may not be sufficient reward to know merely that they have helped you to push back the frontiers of knowledge.  Of course, it is always important to remember that you should not go overboard in their rewards to the extent that you are virtually coercing them to participate (Standards I.27, I.28, and III.29).  However, for example, if you are studying the stress experienced by single mothers and their coping strategies, you ought to pay for their babysitting expenses while they are giving you their time, and perhaps provide them with a gift card for a grocery store.


When I was working with police canine officers, I often took action photos of them and their dogs (e.g., at the Annual Canadian Police Canine Association [CPCA] Championship Trials) and gave them copies.  I also donated to the CPCA the action photos for inclusion in feature articles and more formal portraits for use on the cover of their quarterly journal.  I also wrote articles for their journal, often based on interviews with “big names” in the police dog training arena.  But perhaps my most significant contribution to them was to correct the misuse of psychological knowledge.  I had observed that many police canine officers and trainers were enamoured of the out-dated psychological construct of “drives”, a construct that had its origins in the outmoded psychological construct of “instincts”:  Is he in play drive or prey drive?  He doesn’t have a very strong ball drive.  I felt that it behoved me to correct this misuse and misunderstanding.  So I documented for them the problems with this misuse and misunderstanding and suggested alternative understandings of canine behaviour (Stark, 1996, 1998).


But it isn’t only the participants in your research who need to be recipients of your largesse.  For instance, I not only served as Department Head for what, at times, seemed like an eternity, but I also served on every committee in the Department and many of the University-wide committees, as well.  But I am only a student.  Surely you can’t mean that I should serve on my university’s committees!  But I do mean that.  Instead of complaining about this, that, and the other thing, do something constructive about it.  Very often, these committees need to hear the voice of the students whom they are established to serve and so have allocated spaces for students.  Your involvement can actually make a difference in your learning environment.  You are giving back to the university that is nurturing you.  At the same time, you are paying forward with your service so that future students will benefit.


Get involved in shaping your own future and the future of the disciplineYou can also play a part in shaping the discipline that you have chosen and are benefiting from by joining CPA as a Student Affiliate (and later as a full Member); there is even a Section on Students in Psychology for you.


I outlined for you, in the Introductions section of this chapter, some of the ways that I have been involved in shaping my own future and that of the discipline.  As a result, I have been provided with some slightly strange opportunities.  A Guest Editor of a special issue of the Canadian Journal of Physics wrote an article that, although it wasn’t subjected to peer review, was inserted into the special issue.  In the article, s/he reported that s/he had conducted “research” using “social science research methods”.  On the basis of this “research”, s/he concluded, among other outrageous claims, that the September Massacre, at l’Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, could be blamed on the mass murderer’s mother.  Why?  Well, because she worked outside the home, of course.  Because I was prominent in CPA, SSFC, and SSHRC, and known for my feminist research, I was invited to write an article for the Canadian Journal of Physics.  In this article, I corrected the Guest Editor’s mischaracterization of what s/he had done as having been research, in the first place, and as having used social science research methods, in the second place—not to mention the fact that the free and informed consent of the student interviewees was never sought.  At the behest of SSHRC, I also prepared a brief on scientific responsibility for the National Research Council of Canada (NRC).  These two events led to me being invited to chair a plenary session on scientific responsibility at their annual convention—an event that I would otherwise not have attended.  So you never know where your work on behalf of the discipline will take you.


Service to the public.  There are many and diverse ways through which we can serve the public that supports us.  We have a responsibility to share our knowledge for the common good.  However:

In order to be responsible and accountable to society, and to contribute constructively to its ongoing development, psychologists need to be willing to work in partnership and collaboration with others, be self-reflective, and be open to external suggestions and criticisms about their work and the place of the discipline in society.  They need to engage in even-tempered observation and interpretation of the effects of societal structures and policies, and their process of change, developing the ability of psychologists to increase the just and beneficial use of psychological knowledge and structures, and avoid their misinterpretation or misuse.

(CPA, 2017, Principle IV, Values Statement)


News media are always looking for interpretations of events and items that will capture the readers’ and viewers’ attention.  However, you do not have to wait for them to find you.  If you have discovered something that you feel the public could benefit from knowing, you can go to them.  Eventually, they will come to see you as a reliable source of trustworthy information, and they will start coming to you (e.g., Stark-Adamec, 1991).  Caveat:  Make sure that, when you are being interviewed, you take care to distinguish between facts and opinions, theories, hypotheses, and ideas when you are commenting as a psychologist (Standards III.10, III.18-19, III.21); and remember, as I’ve said before, not to use psychological jargon or “psychobabble”.


But it isn’t only the media through which we can make contributions to society.  We can also contribute to society through our policy recommendations (e.g., Stark[-Adamec], 1995e) and through correction of misperceptions and misunderstandings of psychological knowledge (Stark, 1996, 1998; Stark-Adamec, 1992a-c; Stark-Adamec, & Adamec 1986; Stark-Adamec, & Kimball, 1982, 1984; Stark[-Adamec], 1995a, 1995d).  Such contributions, however, are always subject to the same caveats as those for our interactions with the media.

Parting Thought Boxes

In this, the concluding section of your chapter on the essence of ethics, I leave you with five Parting Thought Boxes.  For the first one, I provide you with how I dealt with the situation.  As usual, I feel that only part of the dilemma was adequately dealt with, that someone might have been able to do more.  For the remaining dilemmas, I would like you to think about how you would deal with the situations, using what you have learned about ethics and ethical decision making.

Thought Box 4

What would you do and why?


You feel that the research that you are conducting has, via extension of the logic for it, potential to cause significant harm to your participants.  You are conducting this research at the behest of your employer, despite having informed her/him that her/his rationale for the research would predict potentially adverse effects.  The head of the laboratory, who is not a psychologist, pays your salary and has directed you to conduct this research, despite your having explained the ethical issues.


What can you do?  You need the salary, but are conflicted about following her/his orders.

What I did in this situation.  The situation described in Thought Box 4 is one that I faced when I worked in a brain research laboratory in a hospital.  In addition to the risks to patients evident to me, there was no planned consent form (or consent process) that explained the risks and benefits; in fact, there was no consent form at all.  Furthermore, the proposed research had not been approved by either the Hospital’s or the University’s REB.  After I explained the logic to the head of the lab, and told her/him that I could not conduct what I considered to be unethical research for her/him, s/he left town for an extended period.  That gave me the opportunity to act.


I knew not only that I could not conduct the research that I had been ordered to conduct, but that I could not go to the Psychology regulatory body for the province nor to CPA to lodge a complaint, because the head of the lab was not a psychologist.  So what to do?


I applied for a National Health Scholar Award and a grant to support different research altogether … and received both.  So I was no longer beholden to the head of the laboratory for my salary.  I was also obliged to conduct the research for which I had just received funding.  So I solved my ethical dilemma, but the problem remained of a head of the lab with a very poor understanding of ethics; so my solution was incomplete.  I knew that there might possibly be revenge wreaked on me for my “insubordination”, and indeed there was, but I had accepted responsibility for the consequences of my actions and at least I knew that I had done the right thing for the right reasons.  However, there were systemic issues that were not addressed that might put patients at risk.


For Thought Boxes 5 through 8, you are on your own.  For each of these situations, make sure that you reflect on how your own experiences and your own needs will have an influence on your decision-making processes.  Consider what you have learned from the Standards that I have provided for you, and how they relate to the four Principles, when you identify the issues involved.  Make sure that you give thought to who would be affected by your decisions.  (See Sinclair & Pettifor, 2017, pp. 129-182, for several examples of our Code’s ethical decision-making model in action.)

Thought Box 5

What Would You Do and Why?


You (and two others) have been asked by the Dean of a Faculty at another University to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct in a particular Department.  You will be meeting with students in the Department individually and with faculty members individually.


Before you can get started on your interviews, a small delegation of faculty members arrives and tells you that you have to suspend your investigation.  They claim that—if the allegations are determined to be founded—they will be punished, so your investigation is unethical.  The logic provided is that you are a psychologist and your code of ethics prohibits you from doing harm.


What do you do and why do you do it?


Thought Box 6

What would you do and why?


Peters and Ceci (1982) conducted a famous (or some might say infamous) study on bias in the peer review process of journals.  They took 12 articles that had been published in psychology journals written by authors from prestigious universities and resubmitted them to the journals that had originally published them.  Before they resubmitted them, they made minor, non-substantive, modifications to the title of the articles, to the abstracts, and introductions.  But here comes the “kicker”:  They changed the names of the authors and of the prestigious institutions where they worked to fictitious author names working at unknown institutions—unknown because they do not exist.  Furthermore, they made up institutional names that some psychologists might find somewhat “iffy” (like Tri-Valley Center for Human Potential).  Eight of the 12 articles were rejected on the grounds of “poor quality”, only one was accepted, and only three were recognized as having been published by the journal before.  Needless to say, the journals were not best pleased that they had been duped–played for a fool.


Peters and Ceci used deception and CPA deems that deception in research is undesirable and should only be used under strict conditions (Standards III.23-25).  Did the ends justify the means in this instance?  Is there any other way that Peters and Ceci could have found out how the originating institution has an impact on manuscript acceptance? 


In your work, if you cite a study deemed unethical, are you being unethical?  Why or why not?

On whom might there be an impact if you do or do not cite their work in your own research on peer review?

Thought Box 7

Does your right to privacy end with your death?


Perhaps, legally, it does.  But does it morally?  Do we, for instance, have a right to examine letters and diaries that have been archived but which clearly had been intended to be private and confidential? 


Certainly, very valuable knowledge might be gained from these archives, but does our need to know trump the right to privacy?  Why or why not?


Thought Box 8

What Do You Do and Why?


You are the Vice-President of a University.  After you arrive in your office you begin to hear a loud and continuous beat in the air.  Your secretary informs you that members of a nearby First Nations community are intentionally disrupting classes with ceremonial drumming in the halls and that they have blockaded the entrances/exits to the university.


A short time later, a delegation of elders from the First Nation arrives at your office, demanding an audience with you, which you gladly grant.  They inform you that part of the campus is on their sacred grounds and that classes will be disrupted and the entrances/exits to campus will be barricaded until the property is returned to them.


What do you do and why?


Parting Advice

 If you find yourselves caught on the horns of an ethical dilemma, be sure to consult the decision-making model in our Code and consult someone familiar with the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists for guidance as well.  Standard II.12 reads:  Engage in self-care activities that help to avoid conditions … that could result in impaired judgement and interfere with their ability to benefit and not harm others.  So take care of yourself.  And best wishes for an ethical and enjoyable career!


I am deeply grateful to Dr. Carole Sinclair, Chair of the CPA Committee on Ethics, for her assistance in gathering copies of all of the articles related to ethics (including those that I had written but lost when I relocated to Montreal) that I needed in order to complete this chapter for you, and for her constructive comments on earlier drafts of this chapter.  In addition, she and the late Dr. Jean Pettifor have been an inspiration for me for decades and are responsible, in large part, for my love of and for ethics and of all the thorny issues involved.  I also am indebted to my sisters, Dr. Heather Stark and Mary Stark, for their comments on earlier drafts and for their enduring and endearing support.


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Please reference this chapter as:

Stark, C. (2019). The essence of ethics for psychologists and aspiring psychologists. In M. E. Norris (Ed.), The Canadian Handbook for Careers in Psychological Science. Kingston, ON: eCampus Ontario. Licensed under CC BY NC 4.0. Retrieved from https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/psychologycareers/chapter/the-essence-of-ethics-for-psychologists-and-aspiring-psychologists/


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