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What is Informed Consent in Psychology?

Updated on February 28, 2020
Informed consent is an important part of ethical issues and laws that many researchers work with.
Informed consent is an important part of ethical issues and laws that many researchers work with.

There are many legal procedures that have been created to protect clients and patients. One such legal procedure ensures that patients know the risks involved in a study or treatment. This is known as informed consent.

There are many different parts that make up informed consent which include informing the patient of what a treatment or study consists of, any available alternatives, and any risks or benefits involved.

Informed consent laws extend far beyond the scope of psychology. For example, informed consent must be given in the following situations:

  • Engaging in sexual intercourse
  • Watching an R rated movie
  • Signing any legal documentation

Consent Forms & Test Subjects' Right to Know

Within the scope of psychology, consent forms are used to give patients all the information they need before proceeding with a treatment, test, or study. This makes sure that the patient is armed with the information they need before making a possibly life-changing decision.

Consent forms often differ from situation to situation, but they all contain a number of things which include an explanation of what will happen during the procedure. The risks and benefits of treatment should also be listed to allow the patient the ability to weigh the pros and cons. If there are any alternative treatments available, the consent form should notify the patient of this.

If any patient feels uncomfortable about the treatment, the consent form should notify them of their right to back out of the treatment.

Competency & The Ability to Consent

There is a lot of legal red tape when it comes to informed consent. For example, a patient must give the consent voluntarily and must be competent enough to understand what they are consenting to. Because of this, there are many people who are unable to legally give consent.

There are many laws that cover different situations where consent is involved that were written in order to protect those who are ill-informed or unable to understand the implications of what they may be agreeing to. One such law protects those 'under the age of consent' from having sexual intercourse.

While a person who is under the age of consent may perceive that they understand the implications of their decision, the law protects them as the person is not of an age where they can actually understand the implications.

The law regarding consent forms is one of many laws that stem from ethics in psychology (and ethics in the medical field as a whole.) Laws surrounding ethics in psychology are extremely important as they protect mental health care professionals, patients, and the general public. There are many examples of laws regarding ethics in psychology, including a wide number that solely deal with consent.

An example of consent laws protecting patients are ones that actually prevent those who are mentally unfit to consent from doing so. Patients with Alzheimer's disease, mental retardation, and other disorders that affect a person's understanding are often barred from being able to legally consent to different forms of treatment.

© 2011 Melanie


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    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 

      8 years ago from Planet Earth

      This is a very useful hub - thanks for writing it! I will be linking it to one of mine on a similar topic; I think it's important for people to know about research in human subjects. Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Mel-this is a great hub. I voted it up and bookmarked it. Thanks for posting this useful and interesting piece of work. (I'm a former Michigander. My family still lives there so I am in Michigan frequently).

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      9 years ago from London, UK

      Very interesting subject. Well done.

    • slc334 profile image


      9 years ago from Canada

      Very cool subject to do a hub on! Thanks.


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