Ethics is a central issue in all psychological research. All psychologists’ research has to be given ethical approval in advance. Journals will not publish papers unless they have received proper ethical clearance.
And, of course, ethics is a particularly acute issue in studies – like those of Milgram and Zimbardo – that create stressful conditions and examine extreme behaviours.
Our overall aim was to create a situation that was tough but not harmful. Like an adventure holiday, participants might at times be uncomfortable and unhappy, but we needed to ensure that they would not suffer in the longer term.
For nine months we worked hard to translate these ideas into practice. We consulted colleagues in our universities. We talked to experts on prison conditions. We sought advice from the British Psychological Society.
This was all necessary because, before we could proceed, our plans needed be approved by our University ethics committees. On 17 September 2001 they were.