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Burr, V., & King, N. (2012). ‘You’re in Cruel England Now!’: Teaching Research Ethics through Reality Television. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 11(1), 22–29. https://doi.org/10.2304/plat.2012.11.1.22


This article reports findings from a one-year research project funded by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) Psychology Network. The research aimed to explore the use of ‘reality’ television in teaching research ethics to psychology undergraduates and this article reports on those findings that have particular relevance for qualitative research methods. Experience of teaching research ethics suggests that students can find the process of thinking through ethical issues in qualitative work quite challenging. Ethical issues in qualitative research can be subtly different from, or more complex than, those raised by quantitative studies, and yet most textbooks that deal with research ethics tend to focus on the latter. This article presents findings from a research project by the authors, which suggest that using familiar material such as TV programmes, and in particular ‘reality’ TV, can be effective in helping students address ethical issues in qualitative research. Fifteen second-year psychology undergraduates were shown an extract from an episode of Big Brother (Channel 4). They were then asked to discuss in small groups the ethical issues they felt it raised, and these discussions were audiorecorded. Subsequently, they were asked to apply their thinking to a research brief by discussing the ethical issues it raised, suggesting ideas for design and then writing a research proposal. This article reports findings from the first stage of the project. It presents evidence from the discussion groups indicating that the TV material had promoted an in-depth consideration of some ethical issues that can be challenging for students to address in relation to qualitative work, notably informed consent, confidentiality and risk of harm.