How to “explain additional ethical considerations that could be taken into account when applying the findings.”

Travis DixonRevision and Exam Preparation

Findings from studies like vaccine trials can be applied in numerous ways, but we have to consider the possible downsides to these applications.

The following has been adapted from our IB revision textbook, now available as an online textbook.

IB Psychology’s Paper 3 will have a question on ethical considerations. One of these questions asks you to “describe the ethical considerations in reporting the results…” This is comparatively easy to the second part of this question, “…and explain additional ethical considerations that could be taken into account when applying the findings.” 

This is one of the toughest questions to answer, which might be why the IB is yet to put it in a real exam (as of Oct, 2021). Let’s break it down and look at possible ways of answering this question.

Read more:

What does it mean to “apply findings?”

To apply the findings means that the results of a study are being used to inform and/or justify some kind of further action.

Here are some examples:

  • Findings from studies on false memories have been applied to change interviewing procedures used by police.
  • Findings from studies on the negative effects of cellphones on learning have been used to justify banning phones from classrooms.
  • Findings from one study might be used as the basis of a replication. For example, Morehead (2019) applied the findings from the now famous “The pen is mightier than the keyboard” study by Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014) in their replication (which failed to reproduce the original results).

The most important thing to know about Question 2 in Paper 3 is that it’s worth 6 marks and requires you to write about 6 different ethical considerations. The question is broken into two parts, so write about 3 considerations in response to each part.

Ideas for Teachers:

How to Answer the Question

First, read the summary carefully to find clues about how the findings might be applied. In the Paper 3 example on MyIB with a study about adolescent drug use, they say the findings “could potentially help to develop and inform new approaches to prevention and education” and “…multiple influences should be addressed in the design of future (drug) prevention programmes.” These can be vital clues to answering this question.  If nothing’s mentioned be ready to think on your feet about how the findings could be applied.

Relevant Considerations

You can prepare for this question by pre-preparing some generic responses based on the common ethical considerations. Here are some considerations in order of relevance:

  • Debriefing and/or Informed consent
  • The right to withdraw
  • Validity and Reliability
  • Approval from an ethics review board
  • Beneficence

Debriefing and/or Informed consent: If the study is being conducted with a particular application in mind, researchers should reveal this during the informed consent and/or debriefing stage. This allows participants to make informed decisions about if they want to contribute to this field of study. For instance, would you want to participate in a study if you knew the results might be used to justify banning smartphones from schools?

The right to withdraw: Participants should have the right to withdraw from a study (and/or withdraw their data) if they learn of how the findings might be applied.

Validity and Reliability: It could be considered unethical to use the findings from a single study without first verifying their validity in replications. For example, imagine researchers conduct a successful clinical trial of a new drug in America. If these results were applied to justify the approval of this drug in other countries it could cause harm as it might not work, or worse cause bad side effects.

Approval from an ethics review board: Potential applications of the findings should be told to the ethics review board before the study is conducted.

Beneficence: I love this term in ethics because it means “do no harm.” Anyone applying the findings of a study must consider the potential harm such applications might have. They need to weigh up the pros and cons before proceeding. For example, schools that ban cellphones from the classroom realize that parents won’t be able to reach their kids in cases of emergency. This has to be weighed up against the potential benefits (and it’s not hard to call the school office anyway, so it’s an easy justification!)

Read more about beneficence from the Belmont Report.

Other Ways to Answer the Question

Be ready to talk about considerations that aren’t necessary related to the specific considerations mentioned above. Here are some additional ways you could explain ethical considerations relating to applying the findings. I’ll give an example for each based on this practice paper 3 about an observational study of New York hospitals.

A) Explain how any harm caused in the study could be justified by the application of findings.

  • Hospitals and nurses could have been embarrassed by this study as it showed them in a negative light. However, this could be justified if the findings are used to improve hospital care.

B) Explain how following a particular guideline (e.g. debriefing) might reduce any harm caused by the application of findings.

  • The findings might be applied in the justification of new guidelines produced to improve hospital procedures. The names of the original hospitals should be kept anonymous to avoid any backlash or embarrassment.

C) You could explain how the application of those findings could cause harm to others. This could be linked to the general guideline of beneficence (“do no harm”)

  • If these findings are used to justify changes to improve hospital procedures it might embarrass and alienate some doctors and nurses.

D) You could explain issues relating to validity and reliability of the findings and how this relates to applying findings (i.e. the ethical issues with applying findings from a study that hasn’t been replicated).

  • Changing hospital procedures without replicating the study could cause unnecessary stress to the hospital workers and might lead to long-term worse outcomes for patients.


At time of writing (October, 2021) only three Paper 3 exams have been administered (May 2019 and Nov 2019 and 2020). All three of these exams used the other version of the ethics question. The only example question and mark scheme we have to go from is from the specimen papers published on MyIB or those we have made ourselves. You can check out my example Paper 3 answers that respond to this practice Paper 3. 

More Practice Paper 3s

How to Revise

Revise using flashcards to review the considerations and use practice exams to try applying this information in response to stimulus papers. Make sure you can answer the question in about 20 minutes or less.


If you’re a student of mine I want you to clearly label your answer with two headings that distinguish the two parts to the question (Reporting and Applying would be good headings). Then I would love to see six distinct paragraphs – one for each consideration. This will help me mark your work and will also help you ensure you’ve hit all six points.

From The Guide

From the IB Guide, pg 57. You will be asked one of these six mark questions. Both are written in two parts, requiring three ethical considerations each.