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Ethical Guidelines for Research

Both the American Psychological Association and the Society for Research in Child Development have outlined standards for performing ethical research with children. The most important principle for both organizations is that children must be protected from harm during research investigations. Researchers must use the least stressful procedures possible; minimize deception about the goals of the research; ensure that potential stress is outweighed by the benefits, such as financial compensation or treatment; and correct unforeseen negative consequences of the research. The child's participation must be based on informed and voluntary consent. Parents or legal guardians must be informed of all aspects of the research that could affect their willingness to let their child participate, including study procedures, risks and benefits, protection of the child's privacy, and the child's freedom to discontinue participation. They must be allowed to ask questions and to make a voluntary decision about their child's participation. Children also should be informed about the study, in age-appropriate language, and given the chance to agree or disagree to participate. Researchers should share findings responsibly with parents and the scientific community in a way that protects participants' identities and minimizes misinterpretation.


American Psychological Association. "Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct." American Psychologist 47(1992):1597-1611.

Society for Research in Child Development. Ethical Standards for Research with Children. Chicago: SRCD, 1990.

Debora Bell-Dolan

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Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 3