Case Study Scenario Part 3




This media piece explains four ethical theories in order to prepare you for the Unit 3 assignment, Case Study Resolution. This media piece also includes parts 1 and 2 of the case study videos for your review.


Part 3




The ethical position to do what is right out of duty or obligation. It is often called rule-based ethics.


Deontology has been described as “absolutist,” “universal,” and “impersonal” (Kant, 1785/1959). It prioritizes absolute obligations over consequences. In this moral framework, ethical decision making is the rational act of applying universal principles to all situations irrespective of specific relations, contexts, or consequences. This reflects Immanuel Kant’s conviction that ethical decisions cannot vary or be influenced by special circumstances or relationships. Rather, a decision is “moral” only if a rational person believes the act resulting from the decision should be universally followed in all situations. For Kant, respect for the worth of all persons was one such universal principle. A course of action that results in a person being used simply as a means for others’ gains would ethically unacceptable.


With respect to deception in research, from a deontological perspective, since we would not believe it moral to intentionally deceive individuals in some other context, neither potential benefits to society nor the effectiveness of participant debriefing for a particular deception study can morally justify intentionally deceiving persons about the purpose or nature of a research study. Further, deception in research would not be ethically permissible since intentionally disguising the nature of the study for the goals of research violates the moral obligation to respect each participant’s intrinsic worth by undermining individuals’ right to make rational and autonomous decisions regarding participation (Fisher & Fyrberg, 1994).




The ethical position depends on the consequences of the action with the goal being producing the most good.


Utilitarian theory prioritizes the consequences (or utility) of an act over the application of universal principles (Mill, 1861/1957). From this perspective, an ethical decision is situation specific and must be governed by a risk-benefit calculus that determines which act will produce the greatest possible balance of good over bad consequences. An “act utilitarian” makes an ethical decision by evaluating the consequences of an act for a given situation. A “rule utilitarian” makes an ethical decision by evaluating whether following a general rule in all similar situation would create the greater good. Like deontology, utilitarianism is impersonal: It does not take into account interpersonal and relational features of ethical responsibility. From this perspective, psychologists’ obligations to those with whom they work can be superseded by an action that would produce a greater good for others (Fisher, 1999).


A psychologist adhering to act utilitarianism might decide that the potential knowledge about social behavior generated by a specific deception study could produce benefits for many members of society, thereby justifying the minimal risk of harm and violation of autonomy rights for a few research participants. A rule utilitarian might decide against the use of deception in all research studies because the unknown benefits to society did not outweigh the potential harm to the discipline of psychology if society began to see it as an untrustworthy science.




The ethical position in which the right action is derived from a community’s values and traditions.


Communitarian theory assumes that right actions derive from community values, goals, traditions, and cooperative virtues. Accordingly, different populations with whom a psychologist works may require different conceptualizations of what is ethically appropriate (MacIntyre 1989; Walzer, 1983). Unlike deontology, communitarianism rejects the elevation of individual over group rights. Whereas utilitarianism asks whether a policy will produce the greatest good for all individuals in society, communitarianism asks whether a policy will promote the kind of community we want to live in (Steinbock et al., 2003).


Scientists as member of a community of shared values have traditionally assumed that (a) the pursuit of knowledge is a universal good and that (b) consideration for the practical consequences of research will inhibit scientific progress (Fisher, 1999; Sarason, 1984; Scarr, 1988). From this “community of scientists” perspective, the results of deception research would deprive societ of this knowledge. Thes, communitarian theory may be implicitly feflected, at least in part, in the acceptance of deception research in the APA Ethics Code (Standard 8.07, Deception in Research) and in current federal rgulations (Department of Heath and Human Services [DHHS], 2009) as representing the values of the scientific community. At the same time little is known about the extent to which the “community of research participants” shares the scientific community’s valuing of deception methods (Fisher & Fyrberg, 1994).




The ethical position to act on behalf of persons with whom one has a significant relationship.


Feminist ethics, or an ethics of care, sees emotional commitment to act on behalf of persons with whom one has a significant relationship as central to ethical decision making. This moral theory rejects the primacy of universal and individual right in favor of relationally specific obligations (Baier, 1985; Brabeck, 2000; Fisher, 2000; Gilligan, 1982). Feminist ethics also focuses our attention on power imbalances and supports efforts to promote equality of power and opportunity. In evaluating the ethics of deception research, feminist psychologists might view intentional deception as a violation of interpersonal obligations of trust by investigators to participants and as reinforcing power inequities by permitting psychologist to deprive persons of information that might affect their decision to participate.


Review Part 1


Ben: Good Morning Jenny. Are you interruptible?


Jenny: Oh hi Ben. (friendly and teasing), nice surprise. Well, I was just prepping for my upcoming course, but for the department chair I am sure I can take a few minutes.


Ben: Well, I certainly appreciate the time, professor. I wish I had good news. Have you heard about Stan? His wife Julia just had a stroke yesterday.


Jenny: Oh my god, that is terrible!


Ben:I know. It truly is just awful. They think she will be okay but she is probably going to need lots of therapy. Stan is going to take the semester off to help out with her and the kids.


Jenny: Oh what a nightmare. Poor Julia, and Stan and the kids.


Ben: I know, that is why I am here. It leaves us shorthanded here too. Stan was going to teach biopsychology this semester and now he will not be able to. I was hoping you could step in and teach the course.


Jenny: (apprehensive) Oh my, well I do not know Ben, I am really not sure. I only had one biospych course myself as an undergrad…


Ben: No need to worry, we can get all the syllabus and all the material information from Stan and I bet you would do a great job. Listen, there we have got fifteen students who need to that course to graduate. We cannot let them down.


Jenny: That is a sticky situation, Ben but I am just not sure…


Ben: Oh you will be fine. You are still interested in that full-time position when Professor Lee retires, right? Oh by the way, I need to know your answer by 3:00 today whether or not you can teach the course. If not I need to find anotehr professor.


Jenny: Okay Ben. Let me think about it and I will get back to you today.


Review Part 3


Jenny: I do not know Rhonda, something about this just does not seem right to me. Should I teach the biopsych course even though I have had almost no experience? I mean, why me?


Rhonda: Yeah, have you ever noticed how whenever a problem crops up at the last minute, it is always up to one of us to come in and save the day?


Jenny: I just do not get it. None of the full professors ever gets overloaded like this. Why did Ben not go to Alan? Do you think it is because we are not full professors yet or maybe it is because we are women?


Rhonda: I do not know. It seems like an old boys club to me. I bet if they asked Alan teach the class they would have offered to pay to pay him something extra. They did not offer to pay you something extra, did they?


Jenny: No, of course not.


Rhonda: See what I mean?


Jenny: Yeah, (sigh) something about it just is not right.




  • Fisher, C. B. (2013). Decoding the ethics code: A practical guide for psychologists. Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE.
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