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Canadian Public Perspective of the Canadian Psychological Association's Code of Ethics for Psychologists Principle Ranking Open Access


Other title
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Gothjelpsen, Sheila Marie
Supervisor and department
Dr. Derek Truscott, Department of Educational Psychology
Examining committee member and department
Dr. George Buck (Educational Psychology)
Dr. David Cruise Malloy (Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies - University of Regina)
Dr. Sherrill Conroy (Faculty of Nursing)
Dr. Denise Larsen (Educational Psychology)
Dr. William Whelton (Educational Psychology)
Department of Educational Psychology
Counselling Psychology
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
A professional code of ethics guides professionals in their ethical decision-making, and is also intended to protect the public from harm that may result from the activities of that profession. The Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) created a Code of Ethics for Psychologists with four principles: Respect for the Dignity of Persons, Responsible Caring, Integrity in Relationships, and Responsibility to Society. Dilemmas arise, however, when these principles conflict with one another (e.g., when respect for individual autonomy conflicts with concern for others’ welfare), and therefore the CPA code ranks the four principles in descending order of importance. The current study examines whether the public supports the CPA principle hierarchy. Few studies examine the public’s perspective on the ethical behaviour of psychologists, and none to date has examined the Canadian code of ethics. If Canadians endorse the CPA ranking this would provide greater support for the Code’s validity. If Canadian perpectives diverge from the CPA rank order, this could have implications for informed consent as well as future code revisions. Moreover, there has been a call for greater consideration of client perspectives with respect to our ethics. French and English surveys were mailed to a randomly selected sample of 322 Canadian adults, with 157 responses received. Each survey included 12 vignettes describing a hypothetical ethical dilemma that pits two of the four CPA principles against one another. Participants were asked what decision they feel the psychologist ought to make. Their responses would indicate either agreement or disagreement with the CPA code. Participants were also given Forsyth’s (1980) Ethics Position Questionnaire (EPQ), which categorizes how an individual tends to approach ethical dilemmas in general. Using a binomial test and the Page Test for Ordered Alternatives, the data were examined to see if there was evidence that Canadians support the CPA principle rank order, or if one principle appeared to dominate over the others. EPQ categories and perceived level of difficulty are also compared to the CPA ranking. Demographic variables are considered as well. The two central findings were that (1) participants did not endorse the CPA ranking, and (2) Principle 3: Integrity in Relationships clearly out-ranked all other principles. Participants who have received psychological services in the past still ranked Principle 3 highest; however, Principle 2 was ranked significantly higher than for those who have never seen a psychologist. Three of the vignettes demonstrated inconsistent answers that suggest possible context effects. The EPQ offered limited explanatory utility; however, the majority of participants scored high on Idealism and were categorized as Situationists. There was a moderately positive relationship between response confidence and code congruence. No differences based upon gender, age, SES, or French/English speaking were found. However, those with higher levels of education tended to rank Principle 1 high and those with lower levels of education tended to rank Principle 1 low.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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