(p. xix) Foreword
(p. xix) Foreword
We live in times of rapid social change: the new millennium began with a unique combination of political transformation to more democratic rule in many countries, especially in Europe, overlaid by globalization that has generally affected all societies through the opening up of world markets and the free circulation of goods and services. Recently, however, the globalized world has been challenged by financial crises that many would say arose in no small part through a lack of ethical conduct. The world also faces deepening divides between political and cultural systems, not to speak of threats by radical and militant ideologies. Yet despite all this, most people would agree that since the 1990s the world has become a better place for many citizens, who can now strive to fulfill their aspirations under conditions that offer better prospects with regard to human rights.
As a discipline, psychology aims at understanding of how people can strive to fulfill their aspirations, how they can realize their true potential concerning their thoughts and actions, and it does this by describing, predicting, explaining, and optimizing psychological adaptation and development in the human ecology. This raises an interesting question: did the social change just described, which has had such a profound impact on the world, also have an impact on the development of the discipline of psychology, a field of research and practice that ultimately wants to serve the well-being of humankind? Based on some intriguing facts found in The Oxford Handbook of International Psychological Ethics, the tentative answer is yes. In particular, according to the chapter by Michael Stevens (Chapter 27), it would seem that more prosperous and democratic countries have a higher share of psychologists in the population and a higher publication output of relevant research, and that this effect is mediated largely by the advantage of a market economy and political freedom for human achievements, such as high life expectancy, widespread literacy, and adequate living standards. If this is the case, then the logical assumption is that, as more countries become prosperous and take on democracy, so the discipline will expand and increase. Added to this, globalization brought with it an emerging view that individuals not only pursue their own goals, but also negotiate them in close alignment with the aims of their social reference groups, thereby establishing a synthesis between individualistic and collectivist orientations. This is also fertile soil for the ongoing growth of the discipline.
The need for quality standards and rules of conduct concerning all aspects of the activities of psychology has long been acknowledged. Indeed, as the book explains, modern codes of ethics have been in existence since the mid-20th century, and ethical principles articulated with regard to respect for persons and social responsibility can be traced back across time almost to the ancient world. However, over the last (p. xx) few years there has been a growing awareness of the need for and the advantage of internationally recognized ethical standards, particularly concerning research and practice and the well-being of individuals and societies: this volume is the most comprehensive assembly of facts and visions across the entire field that one could imagine. Of particular importance, it discusses the history and aims of ethical meta-codes, such as the 2008 Universal Declaration of Ethical Principles for Psychologists, already adopted by the two world organizations of psychology, the International Union of Psychological Science (IUPsyS) and the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP). As discussed in the chapter by Janel Gauthier and Jean Pettifor (Chapter 9), this declaration holds respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, competence in their care, integrity of psychological action, and professional and scientific responsibilities to societies to be guiding principles for all psychological work. This is compared and contrasted with the older Universal Declaration of Human Rights, issued by the United Nations in 1948, following the end of World War II, and the case is made for how these two declarations—one on human rights and one on ethics—complement each other and provide a framework for addressing many of today's global problems.
With regard to the development of an internationally agreed code of ethics, the hope is that psychologists and their scientific and professional organizations will refer to the Universal Declaration of Ethical Principles for Psychologists and use it to help develop their ethical codes to include standards of conduct that take cultural and other specific characteristics of their countries and societies more into account. Naturally, most national associations of psychology represented in the IUPsyS, and there are more than 70 worldwide, have already implemented such standards and have long been engaged in adapting them to the new challenges arising from developments in the discipline, such as the growing role of methods and concepts from molecular genetics and neuroscience. Moreover, consideration has been given to new developments in society at large, such as the increasingly multicultural orientation in many countries and the formation of multinational bodies like the European Union.
Interestingly, the social change that has happened or is happening in various corners of the world has already left a clear mark on many recent versions of ethical codes. In many areas, developments signaling a break with the past can be seen especially concerning higher legal or constitutional protections, the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment, greater sensitivity to diverse and vulnerable communities, more openness to multiple viewpoints, and responsible ways of decision making. Thankfully, this is no case for any one region of the world to feel superior over another—these examples of amendments and improvements in reaction to deficits and threats refer to various countries in the North and South, West and East, including the highly reputed powerhouses of psychology, such as the United States.
With regard to the scope of the book, it over 30 chapters, which means that it is truly comprehensive and addresses almost all aspects of psychological ethics one can think of. However, among the many, several are worthy of particular note: the history of ethical standards of psychology, certification of psychologists, research (p. xxi) ethics for various fields, hot new topics such as immigration, culturally adequate interventions, research utilizing the new media, psychological testing in times of confidentiality concerns, psychologists and the legal system, and ethical standards in various regions of the world at various stages to and from democratization. As one would expect, the book concludes with a full synopsis, including recommendations on how to implement ethical standards and what open questions research might pursue.
Readers will learn about paradigmatic negative cases, such as the obvious misuse of psychology for maintaining divisions among peoples, but also about the fresh positive impetus psychology can give to national development and the improvement of the human condition. The book is written in a nontechnical language that conveys a framework of ethical principles, values, and rules that allows psychologists to see their work and life as honorable.
As president of the IUPsyS, I welcome The Oxford Handbook of International Psychological Ethics as a source of knowledge and wisdom for our discipline.
Rainer K. Silbereisen (p. xxii)