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Ethics codes imperative in conducting research

This is an excerpt from Measurement in Sport and Exercise Psychology with Web Resource edited by Gershon Tenenbaum, Robert Eklund, Aki Kamata.


Ethics Codes: Their Nature, Purposes, and Application

Ethics codes typically comprise principles and standards. Ethical principles are broad-spectrum statements that summarize and reflect the values of the parent organization or governing body. These general and aspirational statements set the underlying tone for the more specific codes and guide the work-related ethical decision making of professionals. In contrast, ethical standards specify both proscribed and prescribed member behaviors. While not always black and white, these standards serve as a more clear cut and enforceable guide for professional behavior.

Members should apply both the aspirational principles and enforceable standards to shape their thinking and behavior in work settings. Ideally, members self-monitor their own behavior. In an effort to remain ethical, professionals are encouraged to consult with colleagues about ethically challenging situations and to provide constructive feedback about perceived possibly unethical behavior they witness in others.

Assessment and Measurement

A central question to be addressed in this chapter is what are assessment and measurement. Sundberg (1977) defines assessment as the processes used “for developing impressions and images, making decisions and checking hypotheses about another person’s pattern of characteristics that determines his or her behavior in interaction with the environment” (p. 21). The assessment process involves collecting and assembling a broad range of objective and subjective information about persons or groups to develop impressions about them; identify their needs; predict how they might think, feel, and behave in future situations; and select and apply interventions based on the content and dependability of that information. Professionals may use multiple assessment methods that include observations of behavior, symptom checklists, surveys and questionnaires, structured and unstructured interview materials, and standardized tests (Bennett et al., 2006). Gardner and Moore (2006) emphasize using a triad of psychological assessment strategies in the practice of clinical sport psychology: (1) initial interviews, (2) behavioral observation, and (3) psychological testing. The nature and assumptions underlying assessment approaches are usually grounded in the theoretical orientation of the professional (Andersen, 2002).

In contrast, measurement can mean many things to many people. It is one of the most common words in the English language and can be used as both a noun and a verb (Lorge, 1967). For the purposes of this chapter, measurement is viewed as an extension of assessment processes. It can be thought of more narrowly as the process of collecting information about psychological characteristics of interest (e.g., attitudes, behaviors, state experiences) using one or more methods or tools (such as those mentioned earlier) to monitor change, the effect of intervention, or treatments postassessment. For example, an educational sport psychology consultant might administer a measure of team cohesion over the course of a competitive season to see how team members perceive their relationships. Another consultant might conduct a preseason baseline screening assessment of cognitive functioning in hockey players and then reevaluate players who incur a mild traumatic brain injury (i.e., concussion) later in the season.

In this chapter, the terms measurement and assessment are used interchangeably. Furthermore, these terms are used to describe the decisions and opinions made by professionals regarding clients with whom they work. As such, measurement and assessment techniques include all methods of gathering information about clients, such as (a) psychological, educational, and neurological tests; (b) data gathered during clinical interviewing; (c) information gathered from significant others (e.g., family members, teachers, friends); (d) direct and indirect observation; and (e) interactions with people via teletherapy (e.g., Internet, phone; Fisher, 2009).

Competence and Education

In order to excel in our professional duties and do well for those we serve, teach, study, and otherwise interact with, we must know what to do and how to do it in a capable manner. The ethics codes mentioned earlier identify the necessity of being knowledgeable and capable in our work. For example, the APA ethical standards provide guidance for organization members in this area, including information about (a) competence limitations, (b) keeping up competence, (c) making sound professional and scientific judgments, (d) delegating work responsibilities to others, (e) engaging in activities in emergencies, and (f) impairment (APA, 2002). Competence in professional behaviors is a personal matter that is frequently challenged. It is the responsibility of professionals to know their limitations and how their knowledge and skills change and require constant upgrading. The APA ethics code also emphasizes the importance of making sound work-related decisions based on scientific knowledge and appropriate discipline-specific practice. This portion of the APA code cautions professionals to be careful when delegating work to others, describes how a professional is responsible for others’ work, and explains the necessity of avoiding multiple relationships with those to whom work is delegated. The APA standards note that we can occasionally be thrown into situations in which our competence is stretched; in such cases we need to be very careful, seek supervision if available, and end such work as soon as possible.

Measurement Referral Questions and Appropriateness of Instruments

When selecting assessment instruments, the professional must consider the referral questions that prompted this process (Fisher, 2009; Smith, 1976). The instruments selected should reflect these referral questions and utilize assessment strategies that have appropriate validity and reliability. For example, if a professional is interested in measuring state anxiety for research purposes, an appropriate assessment may be the Competitive State Anxiety Index-2 (CSAI-2; Martens, Burton, Vealey, Bump, & Smith, 1990) as opposed to the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI; Spielberger, Gorsuch, & Luschene, 1970), which measures both trait and state anxiety. When selecting the assessment, the professional should be aware of limitations or biases regarding cultural sensitivity (see the later section on cultural issues); gender considerations (Etzel, Yura, & Perna, 1998); and age, language, or disability factors that may influence the psychometric qualities of the assessment differently from the way they influenced the normative groups used for the development and validation of the instrument (APA, 2002; Fisher, 2009). It is also important to consider the method of delivery. For example, assessments based on paper and pencil may not have been validated for online use (see the later section on technology), and instruments with elevated reading levels may not be appropriate for certain age or developmental groups. Therefore, the professional should always verify the assessment’s validity and reliability when a modified assessment method or group is used (Fisher, 2009). Furthermore, the professional should also attempt to conduct in-person assessments when possible, as a great deal of information can be learned about clients from the way in which they present themselves during the assessment process. This information can affect the richness of the assessment data.

It is also important for professionals to be aware of and competent to assess and use appropriate psychometric strategies for establishing validity and reliability of the instruments they use (AERA, APA, & NCME, 1999). All instruments have unique psychometric properties that affect how they should be administered and interpreted. When validity and reliability issues are not taken into consideration, it is possible to choose and utilize instruments to assess factors that they were not designed to assess. Furthermore, practitioners should be well aware of other psychometric properties such as content and criterion validity and standard error of measurement that may affect how results are interpreted and used. The ethical practitioner needs to be aware of psychometric issues in order to choose appropriate instruments with regard to the referral questions, client characteristics, assessment strategies, and environmental factors.

Consent and Assent

As discussed earlier, the ethical principles for sport and exercise psychology emphasize doing no harm to the client and respecting the individual’s rights and dignity (AASP, 1996; APA, 2002). The test taker’s right to privacy and confidentiality applies here as well, and the professional should take all necessary precautions to maintain the confidentiality and privacy of the client. To protect the test taker, informed consent must be obtained at the start of the relationship (e.g., research, consultation, therapy). Beyond the informed consent process and before formal assessment, the client or participant should be informed of all pertinent information regarding the assessment process. This information includes (a) the nature and purpose of assessment; (b) any applicable fees; (c) potential involvement of third parties such as a coach, athletic trainer, or manager; (d) limits of privacy and confidentiality (as discussed in the next section); and (e) the timeline for the process and potential feedback (Fisher, 2009). This information should be presented in a clear and understandable manner. Furthermore, this information should be agreed to by the test taker, who thereby gives informed consent. Test takers should engage in assessment of their own free will and must be given the option to withdraw participation without consequences (APA standard 3.10). All necessary information about assessment procedures and findings should be provided in a language or level appropriate for the participant. Furthermore, it is unethical to necessitate or coerce individuals to take part in measurement and assessment for research or practice purposes.

Privacy and Confidentiality and Release of Information

Typically, the ethical standards of organizations with ties to sport psychology (APA ethical standard 4.01 and the AASP) suggest that professionals should not reveal information about clients, test takers, or others without their signed approval to release information or legal requirement. These legal situations may include (a) a test taker who indicates possible self-harm or harm to others (i.e., suicide or homicide), (b) a test taker whose results are subpoenaed by the court, or (c) a test taker who is a minor, in which case the parent or guardian may have access to the data (Etzel et al., 1998). If the test taker or, in the case of a minor, the parent or guardian provides explicit written permission, the specific information identified by the client may be released to the identified parties. Unless these circumstances are met, information from the test taker may not be disclosed to anyone (e.g., coaches, management, parents, administration, athletic trainers, and so on).

In situations where the assessment is requested by a third party (e.g., coaches, management, the court), this third party may also request results from the assessment. It is important for the professional to establish a priori who is the “real client” (Ogilvie, 1979) and to have the ability to control access to the results. Etzel and colleagues (1998) suggest that information about the assessment should be shared only with one predetermined person, unless a release of information form has been completed. Therefore, when engaging in assessments, the professional should set clear boundaries and avoid dual relationships, thereby identifying who is being served (APA standard 4.02a). Another complication of these situations is the role of trust. If athletes or test takers suspect the test results will be used without their permission in decisions regarding performance or other aspects of participation, they may be less likely to respond honestly, thus affecting the validity of the results (see the section on demand characteristics).

Raw Data and Data Storage

Raw data such as the test taker’s responses to items, including the professional’s notes and final reports, should be stored in locked file cabinets inside the professional’s office or in password-protected computer files (Fisher, 2009). Other methods to ensure confidentiality may include limiting access to records to only those people who have a need to know this information and have been trained to handle and understand it, deidentifying records using code numbers, and appropriately disposing of identifiable records (Fisher, 2009). A good policy for data maintenance is that data should be kept for a minimum of 7 y after the last service delivery date or 3 y after a minor reaches the age of 18 (whichever is later), as is recommended by the APA record-keeping guidelines (APA, 2002; Fisher, 2009). Raw data and the instruments used for assessment purposes should not be released to third parties unless a release of information form has been completed and the third party is trained competently to use such information.

Results Discussion

Test feedback and results discussion should be provided in the form of a carefully constructed report using clear language that fully explains the assessment results. Labels and jargon should be eliminated to increase readability. Information necessary to the purpose of the test should be included, and the inclusion of unnecessary and unrelated information should be avoided (APA, 2002; Fisher, 2009). Additionally, as recommended by the APA (APA, 2002), interpretations should take into consideration the participant’s gender, race, ethnicity, age, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, disability, language, or socioeconomic status. Participants should receive assessment information and feedback related to their performance on the assessment and should be informed of ways in which they could personally use the test results or how this information may be used by a third party (only if written permission was given to release such information). The information released to the participant should be presented in a verbal or written report and presented in such a way that it may not cause harm to the test taker (Etzel et al., 1998). However, information such as numerical scores or specific responses should not be released to individuals not qualified to interpret such information (Fisher, 2009; Tranel, 1995).

Demand Characteristics

In the sport context, several groups of individuals may be interested in the assessment results of athletes. Interested parties may include coaches, managers, teams, students, or administrators. However, the potential of a third party reviewing the test results may increase social desirability and result in invalid and unreliable information. Therefore, undue pressure to complete an instrument or battery should be considered as a contextual factor.

Another potentially undesirable effect of a third party viewing the test taker’s results may be assessment anxiety. The APA standards state that if a test taker is observed to be anxious or reports feeling anxious, this feeling should be taken into account and become a limitation in the interpretation of test data (APA, 2002). Assessment anxiety may be exaggerated in situations where a third party may have access to results. These situations may also lead to faking good or faking bad on the part of respondents who are concerned about how the results may be used. This must also be considered when evaluating the results.

Supervision of Subordinates

In some cases, professionals may hire and train subordinates to help with assessment and measurement tasks. These subordinates may administer, score, and even interpret the results of measurement and assessment. Standard 2.05 of the APA ethics code (APA, 2002) states that professionals utilizing employees, supervisees, or research and teaching assistants for such purposes should take reasonable precautions to put subordinates in situations where (a) they do not face possibly harmful multiple relationships with the client that could affect their objectivity, (b) they are competently trained to perform the delegated task on their own or with supervision, or (c) they are supervised for competent service delivery. Therefore, when using subordinates to help with tasks such as administration, scoring, or interpretation, the professional assumes primary responsibility and liability to ensure that the services are being provided competently. The professional needs to ensure that subordinates are well trained with all potential instruments. To do so, the professional must provide appropriate training, experience, and supervision as well as continue to check the subordinates’ work to ensure its quality. As with licensed professionals, not all subordinates have the same competencies with regard to all instruments.


Read more from Measurement in Sport and Exercise Psychology edited by Gershon Tenenbaum, Robert Eklund, Aki Kamata.



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