I think much research would not be very successful if the subjects knew the purpose of the research. When researchers gather human subjects for a trial, can they provide the subjects with misleading information about the purpose of the trial?

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    Related article. It's been a while, but I'm pretty sure most psychological studies now have to be approved by an ethics/IRB, so as to stop things of a questionable nature like the Milgram experiment from happening. The only thing that I can think of that is considered ethical is double-blind with a placebo, which could technically be misleading since you don't know if you're getting treated.
    – Compass
    Oct 21, 2014 at 13:05
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    That's a great question.
    – xLeitix
    Oct 21, 2014 at 13:27
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    Studies involving deception are certainly allowed under some circumstances (see, for example, ora.research.ucla.edu/OHRPP/Documents/Policy/8/Deception.pdf). But I'll leave formal answers to those with more experience with these issues. Oct 21, 2014 at 13:27
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    It is possible to limit the information given to the patients such that they don't know the exact research details but still are not being mislead.
    – user21268
    Oct 21, 2014 at 13:37
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    The answer will vary by location: do you have a specific country (/legal system) in mind?
    – 410 gone
    Oct 21, 2014 at 14:39

2 Answers 2


Standard 8: Research and Publication of the "Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct" of the American Psychological Association pertains. Specifically:

8.07 Deception in Research

(a) Psychologists do not conduct a study involving deception unless they have determined that the use of deceptive techniques is justified by the study's significant prospective scientific, educational or applied value and that effective nondeceptive alternative procedures are not feasible.

(b) Psychologists do not deceive prospective participants about research that is reasonably expected to cause physical pain or severe emotional distress.

(c) Psychologists explain any deception that is an integral feature of the design and conduct of an experiment to participants as early as is feasible, preferably at the conclusion of their participation, but no later than at the conclusion of the data collection, and permit participants to withdraw their data. (See also Standard 8.08, Debriefing.)

Whether or not a planned study satisfies these requirements is for the Institutional Review Board to decide, which must review every proposed study before it starts.

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    Of course, the IRB isn't bound by the APA's ethical principles- it's operating under the "common rule" of the US federal government which has similar guidelines. Oct 21, 2014 at 15:49

I recently participated as a volunteer subject in a psychological experiment, where it turned out that the experimenter had deceived me about the main purpose. At the end of the experiment, she told me about the deception, and offered to show me the paperwork from the ethical review board that had approved it. This was in the UK, and I presume that it was all in accordance with the standard UK rules. For me the experience was quite interesting, but it could have been upsetting for people with a particular (and uncommon) set of life experiences. However, it seemed clear that that kind of issue had been carefully considered by the review board.

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