Research Ethics: Cultural Context and Influences

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International research made progress over the past years to reduce the so-called 10:90 gap in health research by shifting some of the majority of resources put into a small selection of problems (Benatar & Singer, 2010) into other research areas. Nevertheless, one of Benatar and Singer’s (2010) conclusions remains to increase the capability of conducting research on culturally diverse populations. Jerzi (2016) is seeing the psychological body of knowledge being based mainly on an American and European point of view and suggests improving research validity by including more varied cultural settings.

Indeed, there is more and more cross-cultural research performed across the globe, and as a result, the code of ethics need to be adapted accordingly too (Leong & Lyons, 2010). It is less about the absence of guidelines than how ethical principles may apply in different cultural contexts, like for example the different notion of personal autonomy in terms of respect for people in individualist and collectivist cultures (Durham, 2014). Furthermore, Davis (2003) pointed to the taboo of acknowledging culture as an influence for research misconduct and should be the subject of objective investigation. For such endeavors, detailed distinctions between universal ethical principles and culturally accepted forms of behavior have to be agreed upon (Durham, 2014). As a result, scientific values (Ryen, 2008), cross-cultural equivalence of measurement standards (Davidov, Meuleman, Cieciuch, Schmidt, & Billiet (2014), and epistemological ways of inquiry such as exemplar methods that are mainly used to learn about more spiritually flavored mental concepts, may complement the means to better understand cultural context (King, Oakes Mueller, and Furrow, 2013). Shordike et al. (2017) point also to the need for methodological development related to trustful inter-cultural research team collaboration. With the goal to improve the quality of the knowledge produced, Cottey (2016) suggests the implementation of a continuous review process into the scientific method to reduce anonymity and to foster a more cooperative research culture for the long haul. Hwang (2016) is using the term ‘third wave of psychology’ to depict an even more culturally influenced scientific field of psychology that is building the links between universal psychological constructs and distinct mental mechanisms from endemic cultures. This is proposed to be done by eventually integrating three specific components, which are “philosophical reflection, theoretical construction, and empirical research (Hwang, 2016, p. 97).”

The examples of awareness and progress as demonstrated above hopefully provide for fruitful joint international research work that has sound ethical practices at its core, allowing for diversity reflected in an appropriate variety of approaches, methodologies, and interpretations that are taking indigenous needs and concerns into account.



Benatar, S. R., & Singer, P. A. (2010). Responsibilities in international research: A new look revisited. Journal Of Medical Ethics: Journal Of The Institute Of Medical Ethics, 36(4), 194-197. doi:10.1136/jme.2009.032672

Cottey, A. (2016). Reducing Ethical Hazards in Knowledge Production. Science And Engineering Ethics, 22(2), 367-389. doi:10.1007/s11948-015-9651-3

Davidov, E., Meuleman, B., Cieciuch, J., Schmidt, P., & Billiet, J. (2014). Measurement Equivalence in Cross-National Research. Annual Review Of Sociology, 4055. doi:10.1146/annurev-soc-071913-043137

Davis, M. S. (2003). The role of culture in research misconduct. Accountability In Research, 10(3), 189-201.

Durham, J. (2014). Ethical challenges in cross-cultural research: a student researcher’s perspective. Australian And New Zealand Journal Of Public Health, 38(6), 509-512. doi:10.1111/1753-6405.12286

Hwang, K. (2016). Philosophical switch for the third wave of psychology in the age of globalization. Japanese Psychological Research, 58(1), 97-109. doi:10.1111/jpr.12085

Jerzy Marian, B. (2016). Towards a comprehensive model of scientific research and professional practice in psychology. Current Issues In Personality Psychology, Vol 4, Iss 1, Pp 1-10 (2016), (1), 1. doi:10.5114/cipp.2016.58442

King, P. E., Oakes Mueller, R. A., & Furrow, J. (2013). Cultural and Contextual Issues in Exemplar Research. New Directions For Child & Adolescent Development, 2013(142), 41-58. doi:10.1002/cad.20048

Leong, F. L., & Lyons, B. (2010). Ethical Challenges for Cross-Cultural Research Conducted by Psychologists from the United States. Ethics And Behavior, 20(3-4), 250-264.

Ryen, A. (2008). Trust in cross-cultural research: the puzzle of epistemology, research ethics and context. Qualitative Social Work, 7(4), 448-465.

Shordike, A., Hocking, C., Bunrayong, W., Vittayakorn, S., Rattakorn, P., Pierce, D., & Wright-St Clair, V. A. (2017). Research as relationship: Engaging with ethical intent. International Journal Of Social Research Methodology: Theory & Practice, 20(3), 285-298. doi:10.1080/13645579.2017.1287874

  • As you know, I am following a course Existential Well-Being Counseling. One of the approaches which attacked me too enroll, is the multi-cultural approach. In a still growing multi-cultural society, I share your hope research will cooperate internationally more often. I believe there is lot the learn about, and from each others differences.

    • Hi Patty. Thanks for sharing your view. As you say, cultural differences and related social learning indeed is crucial to understand. I just remembered the following: “Diversity is the one true thing we all have in common. Celebrate it every day.” – Unknown