7 Ethical issues in research in Neuropsychology

To understand ethical issues in research in neuropsychology, we should understand the meaning of ethics and neuropsychology.


 What is Ethical?

It is connected with beliefs of what is right or wrong ? or morally correct.

APA define ethics – the principles of morally right conduct accepted by a person or a group or considered appropriate to a specific field.

In psychological research, proper ethics requires that participants be treated fairly and without harm and that investigators report results and findings honestly.  code of ethicsprofessional ethicsresearch ethics

Research Ethics– the values, principles, and standards that guide the conduct of individual researchers in several areas, including the design and implementation of studies and the reporting of findings. (Ethics committee for research approval )

What is Neuropsychology ?

American Psychological Association (2022): “Neuropsychology is the branch of science that studies the physiological processes of the nervous system and relates them to behavior and cognition, in terms both of their normal function and of the dysfunctional processes associated with brain damage”.

Anthony Y. Stringer : “Neuropsychology is the science that studies the relation between brain and behavior, broadly encompassing research on the lateralization and localization of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral phenomena, neurodevelopment, aging and the brain, neuroplasticity, and related areas” .

Kolb and Whishaw (2015): “Neuropsychology can be loosely defined as the scientific study of how the brain produces behavior and how behavior is altered when something atypical happens to the brain (the ‘brain-behavior relationship’). Our cognitive abilities, emotional states, personality traits, and overt actions can all be traced back to brain activity that occurs in complex, interconnected networks” .


Ethical issues in research in neuropsychology are vital due to the sensitive nature of studying the brain and behavior.

Ethical guidelines are established to protect the well-being, autonomy, and rights of participants involved in research studies.

Failure to adhere to these guidelines can lead to harm, exploitation, and erosion of trust in the scientific community.

Here are some key ethical issues in research in neuropsychology:

  1. Discuss intellectual property frankly- To prevent disagreements, it’s best to discuss authorship early in collaborations, psychologists should only claim credit for their actual contributions
  2. Be conscious of multiple roles – It’s common for researchers to mentor students while supervising them in labs. To prevent misuse of power, set clear expectations and responsibilities before starting supervision. A written agreement can help clarify roles, supervision intensity, and authorship.
  3. Follow informed-consent rules-
  4. Respect confidentiality and privacy-
  5. Tap into ethics resources-

Reference – https://www.apa.org/monitor/jan03/principles

Ethical issues in research are vital in  neuropsychology, given the sensitive nature of the subject matter and the potential impact on participants.

1 Informed Consent:

Firstly, informed consent is essential, requiring participants to fully understand the study’s purpose, procedures, risks, and benefits before voluntarily agreeing to participate (American Psychological Association, 2017).

  • Written Consent
  • Assent for minors
  • Debriefing after participation

APA’s Ethics Code mandates that psychologists who conduct research should inform participants about:

  • The purpose, duration and procedures of the research .
  • Participants’ rights to decline to participate and to withdraw from the research once it has started, as well as the anticipated consequences of doing so.
  • Reasonably foreseeable factors that may influence their willingness to participate, such as potential risks, discomfort or adverse effects.
  • Any prospective research benefits.
  • Limits of confidentiality, such as data coding, disposal, sharing and archiving, and when confidentiality must be broken.
  • Incentives for participation.
  • Who participants can contact with questions.

For Example: In a study investigating the effects of a new medication on memory in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, researchers must ensure that participants or their legally authorized representatives understand the study’s objectives, potential side effects, and voluntary nature before providing consent.

Sample of Informed Consent Form: 

Informed Consent Form
You, _________________________, are being asked to participate in a research project titled _________________. This project is being conducted under the supervision of _________________ and was approved by _________________ University/College’s IRB (or Committee on the Use of Human Participants) on _________________.

The investigators hope to learn __________________________ from this project.
While participating in this study, you will be asked to _________________ for _________________ period of time. The nature of this study has been explained by _________________. The anticipated benefits of your participation are ___________________. The known risks of your participation in this study are _________________.

The researchers will make every effort to safeguard the confidentiality of the information that you provide. Any information obtained from this study that can be identified with you will remain confidential and will not be given to anyone without your permission. If at any time you would like additional information about this project, you can contact _________________ at _________________.

You have the right to refuse to participate in this study. If you do agree to participate, you have the right to change your mind at any time and stop your participation. The grades and services you receive from _________________ University/College will not be negatively affected by your refusal to participate or by your withdrawal from this project. Your signature below indicates that you have given your informed consent to participate in the above-described project. Your signature also indicates that:

  • You have been given the opportunity to ask any and all questions about the described project and your participation and all of your questions have been answered to your satisfaction.
  • You have been permitted to read this document and you have been given a signed copy of it.
  • You are at least 18 years old.
  • You are legally able to provide consent.
  • To the best of your knowledge and belief, you have no physical or mental illness or weakness that would be adversely affected by your participation in the described project.

Signature of Participant & Date

Signature of Witness  & Date

2. Confidentiality and Privacy:

Confidentiality and privacy are equally important, necessitating researchers to protect participants’ personal information and identity throughout the study (National Institutes of Health, 2018).

  • Data anonymization- Ensuring that the identities of research participants cannot be linked to their responses or data.
  • Secure storage
  • Limited access

Researchers conducting neuroimaging studies should safeguard participants’ identity by removing any identifying information from brain images and ensuring secure storage of data.

Researchers should take include:

  • Discuss the limits of confidentiality.
  • Know state law
  • Take practical security measures.
  • Think about data sharing before research begins.
  • Understand the limits of the Internet.

3. Beneficence & Non-maleficence

Researchers must also strive to minimize harm by employing standardized procedures to reduce physical or psychological distress during the study, particularly in vulnerable populations like patients with traumatic brain injury (World Medical Association, 2013).

Example: In studies involving cognitive testing of patients with traumatic brain injury, researchers must employ standardized procedures to minimize frustration or distress caused by challenging tasks.

Beneficence and non-maleficence principles underscore the importance of maximizing benefits while minimizing harm, particularly when experimental interventions are involved (Beauchamp & Childress, 2019).

  • Risk assessment
  • Monitoring participant well-being
  • Providing support or counseling

4 Participants’ autonomy

Lastly, respect for participants’ autonomy mandates that researchers obtain consent from legally authorized representatives while also respecting participants’ preferences and autonomy to the extent possible, especially in cases of severe cognitive impairment (Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences, 2016).

Example: In studies involving individuals with severe cognitive impairment, researchers should obtain consent from legally authorized representatives while also respecting participants’ preferences and autonomy to the extent possible.

5 Integrity:

Ensuring fairness in the selection of research participants and the distribution of benefits and risks.

  • Avoiding fabrication or falsification of data
  • Peer review
  • Transparency in reporting results

6 Data Fabrication & Falsification:

Creating or falsifying research data without conducting the actual research or experiment.

Manipulating research data or results to fit a desired outcome or hypothesis.

7. Plagiarism 

Plagiarism is the act of using someone else’s ideas, words, or work without proper acknowledgment or permission, presenting them as your own. It can be categorized into several types:

  1. Direct Plagiarism: Copying verbatim from a source without proper citation. Example: Using a paragraph from a book without acknowledging the author.
  1. Self-Plagiarism: Reusing your previously published work without citation. Example: Submitting a previously published paper without indicating it’s recycled content.
  1. Mosaic or Patchwork Plagiarism: Paraphrasing someone else’s work without citation. Example: Rearranging sentences from a source and incorporating them without proper attribution.
  2. Inaccurate Plagiarism: Incorrectly attributing authorship to someone else. Example: Claiming sole ownership of a group project without crediting co-authors.

Consequences of plagiarism include academic penalties (e.g., failing grades, suspension), professional repercussions (e.g., damaged reputation, termination), and legal consequences (e.g., copyright infringement lawsuits, fines). To avoid plagiarism, always cite sources properly, adhere to ethical writing practices, and utilize plagiarism detection tools and citation guides.

By adhering to these ethical issues in research in neuropsychology,  researchers can ensure the integrity and welfare of participants while advancing knowledge in neuropsychology.

– American Psychological Association. (2017). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ethics/code/
– National Institutes of Health. (2018). Protecting personal health information in research: Understanding the HIPAA Privacy Rule. Retrieved from https://privacyruleandresearch.nih.gov/
– World Medical Association. (2013). Declaration of Helsinki: Ethical principles for medical research involving human subjects. Retrieved from https://www.wma.net/policies-post/wma-declaration-of-helsinki-ethical-principles-for-medical-research-involving-human-subjects/
– Beauchamp, T. L., & Childress, J. F. (2019). Principles of biomedical ethics (8th ed.). Oxford University Press.
– Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences. (2016). International ethical guidelines for health-related research involving humans. Retrieved from https://cioms.ch/publications/product/international-ethical-guidelines-for-health-related-research-involving-humans/

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