Psychology Research Ethical Review

The psychology department at Gettysburg College is committed to protecting the rights and welfare of all research subjects.  Therefore, a departmental ethics representative is responsible for oversight of all research within the department and approves, monitors, and reviews faculty and student research.  The review process varies depending on the level of risk to participants and the type of research.

Levels of Risk

There are three federally-defined levels of risk (and therefore three categories of review) for all research projects involving human subjects.  Consult the College Institutional Review Board (IRB) website for a complete description of each review category.  For all research involving vertebrate animals, consult the College Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) website.

The departmental ethics representative will review and approve all proposals that fall under the Exempt and Expedited review categories.  Proposals that are approved at the departmental level are forwarded to the College IRB for record-keeping.  Proposals that are determined to require Full Review are forwarded to the College IRB.  Note, however, that some federal funding agencies require that the College IRB review all proposals, even if they qualify under the Exempt or Expedited review categories.  In those cases, all proposals will be forwarded to the College IRB.

Types of Research Activities

The ethical review process also varies as a function of the type of research activity.  Regardless of the type of research activity, however, if child participants are involved, then Full Review by the College IRB is mandatory.

  • Ongoing Faculty Research: A program of research designed by a faculty member as part of their general research program.  All ongoing faculty research projects require an application to the departmental ethics representative (for projects that qualify for Exempt and Expedited review), or to the College IRB (for projects that require Full Review).

  • Student Independent Research:  Honors research projects and/or independent empirical research conducted by students under the supervision of a faculty member.  If the proposed research can be covered by the faculty member's ongoing research proposal, then the student may submit an application to this faculty member for review.  For projects that are not covered by a faculty member’s currently-approved research program, then an application is submitted to the departmental ethics representative (for projects that qualify for Exempt and Expedited review), or to the College IRB (for projects that require Full Review)

  • Classroom-Based Research: Federal guidelines stipulate that research conducted within the context of a class does not meet the definition of human subjects research as long as the following conditions are met:
    • The research will not result in the creation of generalizable knowledge or publication beyond the campus.
    • The course instructor has completed human subjects research ethics training.
    • The research does not involve any vulnerable populations (e.g., children, prisoners, mentally-disabled individuals, etc.).
    •  The research poses no more than minimal risk to the participants (i.e., the probability or magnitude or harm or discomfort anticipated in the research are not greater that those ordinarily encountered in daily life or during the performance of routine physical or psychological examinations or tests).

In these cases, individual instructors are responsible for oversight of all class projects.  For classroom-based projects that do not meet all of the above conditions, however, course instructors must submit a proposal to the departmental ethics representative (for projects that qualify for Exempt and Expedited review) or to the College IRB (for projects that require Full Review).  

Faculty teaching Experimental Methods (Psyc 305) and the Advanced Laboratory courses typically require students to complete a proposal that is reviewed by the course instructor as part of the learning process, even in cases that do not meet the federal definition of human subjects research as outlined above.  These proposals are kept on file in the instructor’s office for three years.


If substantive changes are necessary for an approved research project, then the researchers must submit a completed Revision Form and cease data collection until this revision form is reviewed.  Revisions will be reviewed at the same level as the original proposal.


All forms needed to submit an application, or to revise an existing research project, are available on the College IRB Forms Website.


American Psychological Association (APA) Ethics Website

Society for Research on Child Development (SRCD) Ethics Website  

Office of Human Research Protection (OHRP) Website (the governmental agency that oversees all human subjects research)

Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) Website (research ethics training that is required for all faculty conducting human subjects research)

College IRB Website

College IACUC Website (for all research projects involving vertebrate animals)