What statement about risks in social and behavioral sciences research is most accurate?

A. Risks are specific to time, place, and culture.

B. Risks are specific to time.

C. Risks are specific to culture.

The answer is A: Risks are specific to time, situation, and culture.

Risks of harm or simply risk in the field of social and behavioral sciences can be broadly classified into three invasion of privacy, breach of confidentiality and study procedures.

Risks in social and behavioral sciences research are specific to time, situation, and culture.

Invasion of privacy

Invasion of privacy takes place when personal information gets collected or accessed without the consent or knowledge of the subject. A researcher studying interaction patterns on a chat group without expressing his own identity is an example of invasion of privacy.

Such invasions could also occur when a subject’s participation in a study gets revealed despite assurances that such an event would not occur.

A woman who has experienced sexual abuse encounters an acquaintance at a facility where research on emotional reactivity of victims of sexual abuse is being conducted, unwittingly giving herself away.

Breach of confidentiality

A major source of harm for the subject of social and behavioral sciences research is when the researcher discloses some sensitive information outside the research circle.

Unauthorized release of data is one of the major means by which confidentiality gets compromised, leading to a negative impact on the economic, social, as well as the psychological status of the research subject.

Public revelations of an individual’s health status, for example, could potentially lead to a loss of employment.

Study procedures

There are instances when being part of research is enough to put the subject at severe risk. Being part of research being conducted in a focus group is one such instance where a breach of confidentiality could occur if relevant measures are not taken to protect the privacy of other participants.

While every subject will typically claim that they have not shared any information outside, the participants should note that the researcher in such a setting can not guarantee confidentiality.

Risk and the cultural theory

One important and fundamental factor with regards to risk perception of people is the general attitude they hold towards nature. The cultural theory states that thoughts about other people and nature are intertwined with the way of life and a worldview.

Though the attitude towards nature is different for different people, this cannot be put down to mere coincidence. People act according to what is known as “myths of nature”, and there are five different types.

  • Individualists:

Individualists are in fear of anything that might come in the way of their individual freedom. War is the ultimate obstacle with people succumbing to physical control by the powerful. Coming to the power of a socialist government, though far less dramatic, will still be looked upon as a threat by an individualist.

These people are in support of market liberalism and act in the belief that people should be allowed to enjoy their economic gains.

They are more right-inclined from a political viewpoint and view the nature as self-preserving, having the ability to re-establish its status quo. Thus, they are not concerned about the treatment of nature.

  • Egalitarians:

Egalitarians are fearful of developments that will increase the inequalities in society. They are skeptical about expert knowledge, suspecting strong institutions and experts of misusing authority.

Egalitarians are politically left-oriented, supporting political actions that are aimed towards an increase in social equity. They consider nature to be fragile and vulnerable when it comes to human interventions, making them wary of pollution and technologies that could be detrimental towards nature.

  • Hierarchical:

This group emphasizes the preservation of the natural order of society and are immensely fearful of crime, demonstrations, and social commotion. They are faithful towards expert knowledge and consider nature to be largely self-preserving within a strict and rigid limit.

If crossed, nature will fail in its ability to heal itself which could lead to dramatic consequences. Hierarchical people are accepting towards risks provided experts, or the government can justify them.

  • Fatalists:

Fatalists show little interest towards participating in social life though they feel compelled to do so by social groups. They are indifferent towards risk and what they fear is decided mostly by others. They prefer to turn a blind eye towards dangers, assuming them to be unavoidable at all costs.

Fatalists consider the operation of nature to be like a lottery with people being required to deal with problems as they come along. In general, they are not concerned about anything that they cannot deal with.

  • Hermits:

This is a fifth group that does not fit into a social and cultural grid framework, and they are known as hermits. They are cut off from the social environment, withdrawn from other people, and opposed to all forms of worldviews expressed by others.

Assessing risk: the ituation & time perspective

Risks of harm for human subjects participating in research are based on the factors of time, situation, and culture. A socially sensitive topic or issue here and today may not be as critical a topic of discussion at another time or place.

Conducting research on abortion by women will carry varying risks across countries where abortion is a legal medical practice, where it is totally illegal, and where the practice is legal but shrouded in political and religious controversy.

Finding the right balance between risks & benefits

Federal regulations derived from the ethical principle of beneficence stipulate that reasonable risks of harm will always be associated with research when there is some potential benefit on offer.

A large number of research activity in the sphere of social and behavioral sciences comes with very little direct benefit potential as far as the subjects are concerned. The benefits usually lie in the knowledge gained out of the study, its contribution to science, or to the society in general.

In certain cases, a specific community may be benefited rather than an individual subject. A balance needs to be found between the between the benefits and risk being posed to the individual subjects of such research.

As per federal regulations, the risks of harm need to be minimized as far as possible while being consistent with sound research design.


Risk can be minimized when the potential research subjects are made aware of the risks and given sufficient information to make a proper decision about their participation.

They should be forewarned about sensitive questions, protection of confidential information, and to the extent to which the researcher can protect any identifiable personal information.

It should be noted that though confidentiality is limited by state and local laws, the same cannot be guaranteed when the participation happens in a focus group.


  1. Risk Perception in social and behavioral sciences: Retrieved from svt.ntnu.no
  2. Ethics and Informed Consent: Retrieved from researchbasics.education.uconn.ed
  3. About Behavorial and Social Science Research Risk: Retrieved from nap.edu


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