Deception in research: distinctions and solutions from the perspective of utilitarianism

Ethics Behav. 2002;12(2):117-42. doi: 10.1207/S15327019EB1202_1.


The use of deception in psychological research continues to be a controversial topic. Using Rawls's explication of utilitarianism, I attempt to demonstrate how professional organizations, such as the American Psychological Association, can provide more specific standards that determine the permissibility of deception in research. Specifically, I argue that researchers should examine the costs and benefits of creating and applying specific rules governing deception. To that end, I offer 3 recommendations. First, that researchers who use deception provide detailed accounts of the procedures they used to minimize the harm created by deception in their research reports. Second, that the American Psychological Association offer a definition of deception that describes techniques commonly used in research. Finally, I recommend that the informed consent procedure be revised to indicate that the researcher may use deception as part of the study.

MeSH terms

  • Behavioral Research / ethics*
  • Deception*
  • Ethical Analysis
  • Ethical Theory*
  • Ethics, Professional
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent*
  • Psychology / ethics
  • Research Design
  • Societies, Scientific