Bringing you the "Good News" of Jesus Christ and His Church While PROMOTING CATHOLIC Apologetic Support groups loyal to the Holy Father and Church's magisterium
Home About
What's New? Resources The Church Family Life Mass and
Ask A Catholic
Knowledge base
AskACatholic Disclaimer
Search the
AskACatholic Database
Donate and
Support our work
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
New Questions
Cool Catholic Videos
About Saints
Disciplines & Practices for distinct Church seasons
Purgatory and Indulgences
About the Holy Mass
About Mary
Searching and Confused
Contemplating becoming a Catholic or Coming home
Homosexual and Gender Issues
Life and Family
No Salvation Outside the Church
Sacred Scripture
non-Catholic Cults
Justification and Salvation
The Pope and Papacy
The Sacraments
Relationships and Marriage situations
Specific people, organizations and events
Doctrine and Teachings
Specific Practices
Church Internals
Church History

Tom wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am a 20-year-old college student who works in a Psychology Lab and we are about to begin a new experiment that involves changing people's moods to see how it affects their decision making skills and ability to multi task.

In order to change our participants moods, we have to sit them down at a computer and show them various picture sets. Some of the picture sets are not bad but some include sexually explicit material. I haven't actually seen the pictures but I know they contain pornography.

I really enjoy my job as a Research Assistant. I want to go to Grad. School and this job looks really good on my resume; however I am worried that by running participants through this experiment, I might be making them commit mortal sins which in turn puts me in a state of mortal sin.

I guess my question is:

  • Is it wrong for me to run participants through this experiment?

I am only doing what my supervisors have asked me to do, and no one is forced to watch the pictures because they have a chance to read a consent form which tells them they can drop out.

I have been running experiments similar to this one in the past, but this concern has just recently started to bother me and I wanted to see what you thought about the issue.

Thank you so much for your help.


  { Is it wrong for me to run participants through experiments with pornography for my Psych. Labs? }

Mike replied:

Dear Tom,

Thanks for the question.

The choice is yours, but I would encourage you to ponder and pray over a vocation that has a more moral foundation. After reviewing how Wikipedia defines a Research Assistant:

A Research Assistant is a researcher employed, often on a temporary contract, by a university or a research institute, for the purpose of assisting in academic research. Research assistants are not independent and not directly responsible for the outcome of the research and are responsible to a supervisor or principal investigator. Research assistants are often educated to degree level and might be enrolled in a postgraduate degree programme and simultaneously teach.

I don't think I have to tell you how liberal, bias, and immoral many colleges and universities have become in the United States over the past few years. Based on this and your position, it appears that many times the morality of your actions can be rationalized as not being your fault but, your supervisor's fault, because as you said:

I am only doing what my supervisors have asked me to do.

If you are cognizant of behavior that goes against Catholic morals and, in this situation, objectivizes women or men, you are still culpable.

The fact that you asked this question shows me that you care about living a good moral life based on solid Catholic morals.

To technically answer your question: Yes, it would be wrong, and here is the criteria for a mortal sin from the Catechism: CCC 1857 — 1860:

1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: Mortal sin is sin whose object is:

  1. grave matter and
  2. which is also committed with full knowledge, and
  3. deliberate consent.

1858 Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: "Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother." The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.

1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.

1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputably of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The prompting's of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.

If you're not sure about other vocations you'd be good at, touch base with a priest or spiritual director who is faithful to the Church.

He may be able to help and guide you appropriately. My colleagues may have a different take; but that's mine.

Say a Rosary, and call me in the morning!

I hope this helps,


Richard replied:

Hi, Tom!

I'm one of Mike's collaborators on the web site. Research with human subjects often presents ethical questions with some subtlety, so I won't venture to offer a personal opinion.

But we can recommend a good organization with ethics experts who can help you find reasoned answers in accord with Catholic teaching: the National Catholic Bioethics Center has a consultation service, described on these web pages:

I expect that their expertise will be able to give you some clarifying answers.

I hope this helps! God bless!

— Richard Chonak

Please report any and all typos or grammatical errors.
Suggestions for this web page and the web site can be sent to Mike Humphrey
© 2012 Panoramic Sites
The Early Church Fathers Church Fathers on the Primacy of Peter. The Early Church Fathers on the Catholic Church and the term Catholic. The Early Church Fathers on the importance of the Roman Catholic Church centered in Rome.