Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions about research ethics in Psychology

Supporting documents

Do I need to submit my study's actual materials in toto along with the application?

It is necessary to provide copies of your research materials if any of the following apply:

  • the description you provide of your methods and materials is not clear or comprehensive;
  • the topic of study is sensitive (e.g., sex-related issues, illegal behaviours);
  • you are employing deception.

You may also be asked to submit materials if the ethics reviewer is not familiar with a particular instrument.

If you are using a new (non-standard) instrument and/or your materials are difficult to describe within the confines of the application, you may find it easier to simply submit them at the time of application.

Field studies

Home visits

I plan (or my supervisees plan) to conduct participant interviews in the participant’s home. What is the safety protocol in these circumstances?

You (or your supervisees) must abide by the Psychology Home Visit Safety Protocol.

Other types of field study

I plan to conduct a field study/visit of participants (not in the participants’ homes). Are there any safety-related issues I should consider?

Yes. Please conduct a risk assessment and design appropriate procedures per the Social Research Association's Code of Practice for the Safety of Social Researchers.

Social Research Association’s Code of Practice for the Safety of Social Researchers

Amendments to previously approved projects

Adding new researchers

My research project has been approved previously. All I would like to do is add a new researcher to the project. Do I still need to submit an ethics application? 

You should edit the originally-approved online application to incorporate the new researcher’s name and submit this revised form. To do this follow these steps:

  • Go to the Ethics Submission Portal.
  • Click on ‘Existing Applications’ and find the project you would like to change.
  • Click the ‘Proj Info’ button.
  • Click the ‘View form’ button.
  • At the top of the page click ‘Edit Submission’.
  • You will be asked whether you want to edit the existing submission or copy it over to a new one. Choose the “Existing submission” button.
  • Make the changes you need.
  • Use the ‘Upload’ feature to add a brief note informing the ethics reviewer that you are merely adding a new researcher to a previously-approved project. For the ‘Purpose’ field, choose ‘Other’. Please also copy this text directly in the optional note text box.
  • Submit the application. Note that all signatures will again be required.

You may now proceed with the data collection.

Minor amendments

My research project has been approved previously. All I would like to do is re-run the study with the addition of a new instrument/measure (or some other relatively minor amendment). Do I still need to submit an ethics application? 

To do this, you should edit the originally-approved online application to incorporate a description of the new instrument/measure (amendment) and submit this revised form following the same steps as those described above for ‘Adding new researchers’. In Step 8, please describe the nature of the amendments using the “Upload” feature (and the optional note text box.)

If your changes are major, please wait until your project has been re-reviewed and reapproved. A major change is something which has ethical implications. For example:

  • Substantial changes to the methodology, design, or procedure.
  • Any change relating to study risks (either to participants or researchers).
  • Changes involving the use of deception.
  • Significant changes in study documentation (e.g., consent forms, questionnaires, information sheets, etc.).
  • Changes in the level of consent requested (e.g., added request for general public use of data).
  • Changes in the population tested.

Otherwise, your change is considered minor, and you can immediately proceed with or resume data collection. If you are not sure whether your amendment is major or minor, please contact

Conducting multiple similar studies

I’d like to conduct a series of studies that use the same, basic research paradigm (albeit with some variations across the studies). Do I need to submit an application for each study? 

No, you do not need to submit a separate application for each study. You may submit one application seeking general approval of a programme of research. Just be clear in the application that this is what you are seeking and be sure to describe the basic paradigm and the planned variations. Also be conscious of the proposed end-date of the project. If after obtaining approval of a research programme you decide to conduct a study that is similar, but not actually described in the original application, you will have to re-submit the application for approval (per the process outlined above under "Minor amendments").

Collecting data from the internet

I’d like to collect data from internet groups (e.g., message-boards, weblogs, etc). Aren't such data “publicly available” and, thus, do I need to bother with seeking ethical approval for the project?

Yes, you need to seek ethical approval for projects involving material found on the internet. It is important that you carefully read the BPS document about conducting research on the internet before preparing your application. As you will see on pp. 3-4, the distinction between “public” and “private” space is blurred in this context. Just because someone posts their thoughts on the internet does not mean that s/he “reasonably expect[ed] to be observed by strangers (Code of Ethics and Conduct, 2006: 13).”

Non-members of the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences

I'm a member of the University of Edinburgh, but not a member of PPLS, and I would like the PPLS Research Ethics Committee to ethically review my research. Can/will you do this? 

No. It is University policy that ethical approval should be sought at the school (or sub-school) level (see "Procedures" on this webpage). Accordingly, you should seek ethical approval of your project in your own school (or sub-school). In some circumstances, we may be willing to provide input (advice) to ethical reviews being conducted by other schools, but this input will be informal only.