Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Norman A. Scott


This quantitative study assessed the applicability of a Social Contract Theory (Kimmel, Smith & Klein, 2011) that proposes a social contract, potential agreement between researchers and participants, as a means of addressing and potentially diminishing ethical dilemmas associated with use of deception in psychological research. The responses of 212 undergraduate research participants were obtained and compared with those of 189 graduate student or faculty psychological researchers by examining within-and between-group consensus in agreement (> 80% of each sample) for a set of ten Social Contract Statements.

While there was consensus for the five fundamental statements (similar to the APA Code of Ethics), only two of five more specific principle statements garnered support from both groups. Statements that expressed a preference for non-deceptive methods, and general disclaimers to participants by researchers that deception could be used, were supported solely by researchers and participants, respectively. Between-group equivalence in ratings of agreement was predicted; however, meaningful equivalence (< 10% difference) was found only for the prohibition of physical pain in deception research.

This study also extended the applicability of the social contract to selected examples of published deception studies described in twelve brief vignettes. Participant and researcher equivalences and differences in perceived ethicality ratings of the twelve vignettes were obtained. Prior research indicated that researchers perceived deceptions as less ethical compared to participants (e.g., Schreier & Stadler, 1992); however, this study found researchers and participants made equivalent ratings for all but four vignettes. Similar results were obtained for hypothetical consent to participate in a vignette study. Consent was strongly associated with perceived ethicality ratings. In contrast to the prior literature, when differences were present, researchers held statistically (but not meaningfully) more favorable perceptions of the vignette studies than participants. This study also provided preliminary empirical support for the Sieber Taxonomy method of coding and categorizing deceptions into three levels of intensity.

The results suggest that the prospects for a social contract for deception research may not be as strong as had been hypothesized. A revised social contract is proposed which focuses on areas where actual consensus was observed.

Copyright Owner

Paul Lawrence Ascheman



File Format


File Size

180 pages