International Affective Picture Scale: An ethical dilemma

I faced an interesting little ethical conundrum recently. I review ethics form for my department. Some applications want to run studies with, what can only be described as, horrific images. Dead bodies, mutilated bodies, massive tumours. You might know some of these as the IAPS (not to be confused with the governments’ flagship scheme to increase psychological therapies to the population….although if you’ve waited 6 months to get therapy delivered by phone, you might see some similarities).

My dilemma was this: I do NOT want to look at them. My job however, suggests that I need to vet these images. But were is my informed consent about looking at them? Were’s my debrief and checking whether I’m distressed?

I did not give my consent. I’ve seen some of these pictures many years ago and have successfully suppressed them. I have no desire to repeat the experience. And I shouldn’t have to.

But, is it not a big indicator that such an experiment has red flags when the assessor won’t even look at them? The whole point of them is to make people distressed, and I really don’t see appropriate services being put in palace for long term consequences. And, of course, it is those who are really vulnerable to such imagery that seem to be the target of such projects. Sending them off to student counselling is not appropriate. The horse has bolted.

I am a pretty thick skinned person, I am no more squeamish than the next person. But the one thing I will not watch are images of mutilated bodies. Make me do it are your pearl….it is not in my contract.

IAPS might be standardised and seen as an acceptable stimulus for measuring this that and the other. But I’m not buying


Am I talking out of my ass?

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