The investigator always retains the responsibility for ensuring ethical practice in research. The investigator is also responsible for the ethical treatment of research participants by collaborators, assistants, students, and employees, all of whom, however, incur similar obligations. (APA, 1982, p. 5)
The recommendations of others with a variety of perspectives may be incorporated into the research (see Principle A) and approval may be granted by the supporting institution; nevertheless, the investigator still bears the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that the research participants are treated humanely. When there are several co-principal investigators, "responsibility can only be multiplied, never divided," meaning that all bear equal responsibility (APA, 1982, p.30). The same rule also holds when the collaboration is between a senior investigator and a subordinate (e.g., associate, student, employee). While the senior investigator must avoid placing undue pressure on subordinate to engage in research practices that she or he finds objectionable, the subordinate can only be absolved of responsibility under the excuse that such actions were ordered.
Data collection is often done by undergraduate students (Koocher & Keith-Spiegler, 1998). The senior investigator is obligated to provide them with adequate training and supervision to ensure that they are motivated and skillful at conducting ethical research. They should also have readily available backup support in case of emergencies
The Generalization Probe is conducted on the school playground at a location near the swings, where natural hazards seem to be minimized. The very first child who is tested, when enticed by the stranger, says "No, I have to go ask my teacher" (as she learned to do in the video), but before running away, picks up a handful of sand and throws it at him. The wind blows the sand back into her face, getting into her eyes and mouth. She cries hysterically, which gets worse when the two graduate students try to comfort and reassure her. Neither graduate student has ever had to deal with a hysterical child before. The child calms down only after her homeroom teacher appears on the scene. While rattled, the two graduate students continue running the Generalization Probe until testing is complete for all children. There are no further incidents. They do not report what happened with the first child to Sally, fearing that it might affect their final grade for the research project. Later, the child's parents phone Sally to express their outrage. Sally is unpleasantly surprised. She apologizes profusely, and tells the parents that she expected better from her graduate students, that they are at fault for poor judgment, and that she will immediately dismiss them from the project.
The Generalization Probe is conducted on the school playground at a location near the swings, where natural hazards seem to be minimized. The very first child who is tested, when enticed by the stranger, says "No, I have to go ask my teacher" (as she learned to do in the video), but before running away, picks up a handful of sand and throws it at him. The wind blows the sand back into her face, getting into her eyes and mouth. She cries hysterically, and calms down after several minutes of comforting and reassurances from the two graduate students. Both graduate students have taken a child counseling course offered by Sally, and both have experience in dealing with upset children. Immediately after they get the child to settle down, they phone Sally to tell her what happened. (Sally makes herself available to take their calls while the Generalization Probe is in progress.) Sally instructs them to halt the experiment. She then contacts the child's parents to discuss the incident and apologize. She tells the parents that she had visited the schoolyard, made a list of all natural hazards, and had selected the location that she deemed safest. She said she did not anticipate any child reacting by throwing sand, and that she was aware of no reports in the literature of similar retaliatory-type responses by children. Sally informs the parents of the appropriate authorities to contact should they wish to lodge a complaint against her with the university.
In the first item, neither the two graduate students nor Sally assumes responsibility for the sand-throwing incident. The graduate students avoid any perception of wrong-doing by not reporting a significant event to their supervisor, Sally. Their motivation comes from an inappropriate source: fear of a low grade from her. While they may not be at fault for what happened, they do have an obligation to keep Sally informed so that she can decide what corrective actions to take and whether or not to continue with the study. For all they know, the first child's reaction to the stranger's enticement, while unanticipated, may be common in that particular context, and all children subsequently tested could be at similar risk. In Sally's case, she avoids accountability when conversing with the distressed child's parents by blaming her graduate students. Even if they had behaved unethically, as the senior investigator she bears equal responsibility for their actions. Furthermore, Sally should have ensured that her graduate students were trained to deal with emergency situations (e.g., calming a hysterical child).
In the second item, the two graduate students behave responsibly by immediately reporting the sand-throwing incident to Sally. Sally meets her obligations in assuming responsibility in a number of ways. First, the graduate students she selects to run the experiment have experience in child counseling, which could come in handy should a child react negatively to the stranger. Second, she is on hand should an emergency situation arise. Third, she contacts the parents of the distressed child immediately after the incident, rather than waiting for them to contact her. She explains the situation and how she had done her best to protect the children, and offers the parents a way to complain to higher authorities "about her," should they feel a need.