Ethical Considerations – The Belmont Report

Travis DixonResearch Methodology

The three principles of the Belmont report could be useful when it comes to your IB Psychology exams.

One thing that makes writing about “ethical considerations” difficult in IB Psychology is when the question asks to write about “one” specifically. As we usually write about ethical guidelines (informed consent, debriefing, right to withdraw, etc.) it’s hard to identify just one as these are all interconnected. This is where using one of the three considerations that came out of the Belmont Report could be really useful.

What is The Belmont Report?

This was a document written in the 1970s by a group of medical and psychological professionals (at the Belmont Conference Center in Maryland, USA). The document’s aim is to outline ethical guidelines for experimentation using human subjects. The report states three principles that should be maintained in all experiments on humans.

The Three Principles

  • Beneficence
  • Respect for Persons
  • Justice


In common use, beneficence means doing good or “doing the right thing;” acting in a manner that benefits others. In Psychological research, it means that researchers should not harm their participants (physically or psychologically) and that all participants should finish the research in the same condition (or better) that they were in when they began. Common guidelines such as debriefing and the right to withdraw would fall under this category, as well as informed consent (if it’s aimed to reduce harm or stress).

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This principle is rather self-explanatory – the researchers must respect their participants. Researchers must be truthful and not deceive their participants. Informed consent, anonymity and confidentiality are relevant guidelines for this principle.


This final principle refers to the idea that all people must benefit equally from the outcomes of the study. In the history of research, it has often been the case that groups with less social status are the subjects of research and those with higher status reep the rewards and benefits.


If you are asked to write about “one” ethical consideration, one of the principles of the Belmont Report could be good to write about since it would allow you to include numerous relevant guidelines (e.g. one consideration could be “beneficence” and this would allow you to write about all the guidelines the researchers did or could follow to stick to this principle). If you are writing about one of these three principles in the exam, be sure to mention that they come from the Belmont Report.


You need to write about six considerations in Question 2. I recommend using the common guidelines (informed consent, anonymity, etc.) for as many of the six points as you can. However, this can be tough and so the three principles of the Belmont Report might give you some extra points to add if you get stuck.