College drinking has become a serious public health issue that has been associated with violence against women on college campuses. Although some programs to prevent violence against women appear promising when empirically tested, most have small effect sizes and have not been replicated on other campuses. Rachel Cohen, a first-year faculty member in an applied developmental psychology program at a large research institution, was asked to join a group of other scientists in an application to the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to conduct a two-phase multisite study. The senior investigator is well-known, and Dr. Cohen was flattered that she had been invited to join the project. The long-term goal of the study is to develop a peer-oriented prevention program that encourages freshmen living in campus housing to contact their resident director (RD) if an inebriated student is making comments suggesting an intent to commit violence against female dorm residents. To help inform the final design of the prevention program, the first phase of the study will experimentally test conditions under which students are more or less likely to report a threatening incident.
For this first phase, the lead investigator on the project suggests a design that uses deception to control conditions under which reporting of an incident may or may not occur. The design would test the following hypotheses: (a) Freshmen are more likely to call an RD if an inebriated student mentions a potential victim by name, and (b) students are more likely to contact an RD if another student suggests doing so. To test these hypotheses across different dorms and campuses, the study would use research confederates acting as students.
A 10:00 p.m. Pizza Study Break would be advertised through posters and held in a small meeting room in the freshman dorm. One confederate would walk into the room at the start of the break, pretending she was there for the pizza. Once there were at least 10 students in the room, the confederate acting as the inebriated student would enter the room, and both confederates would act out one of the following four conditions:
Condition A1B1: The “inebriated” student actor speaks threateningly about an unnamed female student; the second student actor does not encourage anyone to call.
Condition A2B1: The “inebriated” student actor speaks threateningly about and names a (fictitious) female student; the second student actor does not encourage anyone to call.
Condition A1B2: The “inebriated” student actor speaks threateningly about an unnamed female student; the second student actor says, “Shouldn’t someone call the RD?”
Condition A2B2: The “inebriated” student actor speaks threateningly about and names a (fictitious) female student; the second student actor says, “Shouldn’t someone call the RD?”
The RDs in each dorm would be informed of the study and participate by coming to remove the “inebriated” confederate from the premises if called by students. If after a given period of time RDs were not contacted, they would tell the students they had heard loud noises and take the confederate to their office.
Dr. Cohen believes that violence against women on college campuses is an important issue to address and that to do so requires understanding the conditions that increase students’ willingness to report other students who threaten to harm females on campus. She also believes the deceptive research design adequately tests important hypotheses that may lead to the design of effective peer intervention studies. However, she is uncomfortable with the idea of deceiving the students and worries that the deception might harm them in some way. She does not know how to respond to the invitation to participate in the multisite research.
Why is this an ethical dilemma? Which APA Ethical principles are involved?
Who might be at risk and how will they be effected based on Dr. Cohen’s decision?
If Dr. Cohen decides to participate how might she minimize these risks