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AJOB Prim Res. 2013;4(3):27-38. Epub 2013 Jul 22.

Moral Stress, Moral Practice, and Ethical Climate in Community-Based Drug-Use Research: Views From the Front Line.

Author information

1
Fordham University.
2
University of Pennsylvania.
3
Bryn Mawr College.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

The role of front-line researchers, those whose responsibilities include face-to-face contact with participants, is critical to ensuring the responsible conduct of community-based drug use research. To date, there has been little empirical examination of how front-line researchers perceive the effectiveness of ethical procedures in their real-world application and the moral stress they may experience when adherence to scientific procedures appears to conflict with participant protections.

METHODS:

This study represents a first step in applying psychological science to examine the work-related attitudes, ethics climate, and moral dilemmas experienced by a national sample of 275 front-line staff members whose responsibilities include face-to-face interaction with participants in community-based drug-use research. Using an anonymous Web-based survey we psychometrically evaluated and examined relationships among six new scales tapping moral stress (frustration in response to perceived barriers to conducting research in a morally appropriate manner); organizational ethics climate; staff support; moral practice dilemmas (perceived conflicts between scientific integrity and participant welfare); research commitment; and research mistrust.

RESULTS:

As predicted, front-line researchers who evidence a strong commitment to their role in the research process and who perceive their organizations as committed to research ethics and staff support experienced lower levels of moral stress. Front-line researchers who were distrustful of the research enterprise and frequently grappled with moral practice dilemmas reported higher levels of moral stress.

CONCLUSION:

Applying psychometrically reliable scales to empirically examine research ethics challenges can illuminate specific threats to scientific integrity and human subjects protections encountered by front-line staff and suggest organizational strategies for reducing moral stress and enhancing the responsible conduct of research.

KEYWORDS:

ethics; moral distress; moral obligations; organizational culture; psychological stress; research; substance-related disorders

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