risk-free because an experiment exposes its participants to a number of variables that can impact psychological or physical well-being. To determine if a given study is worth performing, scientists frequently conduct analyses to determine the risk/benefit ratio of a given area of research. Potential risks of research include exposure of the subjects to harmful substances or dangerous situations. For example, when testing a new drug, pharmaceutical researchers will be subjecting their test subjects to chemicals with potential side effects. In extreme cases, the detrimental effects of the chemical may be fatal, such as when a subject has unknown allergies to a given substance. Such issues will be taken into account when making a risk/benefit assessment. In other cases, the participants may be at risk for psychological harm from being exposed to highly stressful situations. For example, in a study on nightmares or on anger, the participants may experience high levels of stress. Participating in the experiment also exposes the participants to potential sources of shame or embarrassment; an experiment can leave indelible marks on the participants, which is why care should be taken to minimize risk and be completely honest with the participants about potential risks.
When the study closely mimics the experiences of everyday life, the research carries minimal risk. For example, if a study was designed to measure the impact on watching two or more hours of television per day, the research sample might include individuals who already watched two or more hours of television per day: because the parameters of the experiment did not alter the participants' behavior in any way, the risk is minimal.
Scientists should attempt to minimize risk in their experiments through ensuring anonymity, acquiring informed consent, and reducing the chances of physical or mental harm. If the parameters of the experiment inherently entail the participants being at risk, informed consent is necessary. The researcher can also alter the methods of an experiment to minimize risk, such as encoding a subject's responses to ensure confidentiality.
2. Online research carries unique risks and raises unique ethical issues. First, all information transmitted online is at risk for being spied on or stolen. A participant's name, address, phone number, and other personal information may be transmitted over insecure Internet connections. The participant may be compromising his or her anonymity in an online study and in some cases could become open to identity theft or to compromising his or her financial data.
Second, in an online study, the researcher is absent, which could compromise the integrity of the study itself. With the researcher absent, the participant is less likely to understand fully the implications of the study and its inherent risks. The participant might not understand the instructions for the study and may fill out forms incorrectly. The participant cannot ask questions of the researcher in the same way he or she could in person.
Third, the researcher may not be able to acquire adequate informed consent from the participants when conducting online research. The participant might not fully understand what the study entails or what risks it poses. The participants may be lying about key demographic information such as age and under-age children may be participating without the researcher's knowledge. The researcher cannot always provide as thorough of a debriefing when conducting studies online, and deception, either on the part of the researcher or on the part of the participant, is more likely under the anonymous and distant atmosphere of the online study.
3. Deciding what information is public and private can be difficult. Diener and Crandell (1978) identified three major parameters that can be used to determine whether information is public or private: the sensitivity of the information; the setting of the study; and the method of disseminating the information. Certain types of information are more sensitive than others. For example, sexuality is often a sensitive area, as is religion and some political beliefs. Common sense can help determine which information is sensitive and which is not, and the researchers should take care to take into consideration the participants' personal and cultural background when making such a judgment. Second, the setting of the study will also help determine the relative privacy of information. When a participant is in public, he or she willingly surrenders a certain degree of privacy. However, the line between public and private is not completely clear-cut. For example, when a person is in his or her car or in a public washroom, he…