Ethical decisions by practicing clinical psychologists : do extra-evidential factors influence judgments of severity and sanctions

This study was designed to investigate the various factors which might influence the decision-making process of clinical psychologists in relation to ethical violations. One of 27 questionnaires containing a vignette of an ethical violation by a psychologist was mailed to 860 clinical psychologists selected at random from the 1981 APA directory. Each of these questionnaires also contained a rating scale from 1-7 for the levels of seriousness as well as 7 sanctions listed in order of severity. It was hypothesized that there would be a substantial relationship between the severity of rating and penalty imposed. It was further hypothesized that the severity of rating of the infraction and the penalty imposed would be directly related to the various levels of minor, moderate and severe. It was also predicted that there would be a significant difference in judgments imposed on offending psychologists who showed various reactions (apologetic/ contrite or obstinate/unrepenting) as opposed to those with no reaction and also that there would be a significant difference in penalties given to offending veteran vs. novice psychologists and to those with no time in field specified. In addition it was hypothesized that the obstinate/unrepenting, veteran psychologist was expected to be rated most severely. From 270 responses it was found that there is a significant relationship between severity of rating and penalty imposed. The severity of rating and the penalty imposed were not found to be significantly related to the levels (minor, moderate, and severe) however they were within the predicted direction. The three hypotheses which included vignettes with responses by the offender, no response given or time in the field specified, were not substantiated by any significant findings.