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Carolyn Payton: Biography & Her Iconic Quote on the Ethics Code
Psychologist Carolyn Payton died at home at age 75 after suffering a heart attack.
A director of the Peace Corps, and the first woman and first African-American to do so, Dr. Payton was scientist, leader, and practitioner.
She provided a remarkable array of contributions to the field of psychology (e.g., the senior author of an influential research article on "Difference limen for perception of the vertical in monkeys"). She was a fellow of APA divisions 9, 17, 35, 44, and 45, and received the award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Public Service among many other honors.
Dr. Payton served on APA's Policy and Planning Board, the Committee on Women in Psychology, the Committee on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns, the Policy and Planning Board, and the Public Policy Committee.
She served as director of Howard University's counseling services and helped to establish an APA-accredited internship there.
Her landmark work included the American Psychologist article "Who must do the hard things?" (April, 1984), in which she argued that psychology would not survive as a science if we ignored the social implications of our work.
Her last article in an APA journal critiqued the APA ethics code. In Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Dr. Payton wrote:
Previous renditions of the American Psychological Association's (APA's) code of ethics have clearly espoused psychologists' commitment to the ideal of having respect for the dignity and worth of the individual human being. The endorsement of the goal to protect fundamental human rights has always been highlighted in the Preambles of each revision of the code. The current code (APA, 1992) appears to have retreated from prioritizing this humanitarian stance. Ethnic minorities, women, gay men, and lesbians have reason to be apprehensive about the apparent downgrading in importance of psychologists' declaration of respect for the dignity and worth of the individual. All previous codes seemed to have been formulated from a perspective of protecting consumers. The new code appears to be driven by a need to protect psychologists. . . . It reads as though the final draft was edited by lawyers in the employment of the APA. [The forcefulness of the proscriptions on harassment, e.g., is diminished in the Other Harassment standard, Standard 1.12, which brings up the qualifier "knowingly" (APA, 1992, p. 1601), as in psychologists do not knowingly engage in harassment. Try using the argument of ignorance with the Internal Revenue Service to explain your failure to withhold appropriate taxes for the housekeeper or baby-sitter.] Removal of the many instances of exceptions to the rule would make the code more enforceable and more reflective of our discipline, which at one time was dedicated to the promotion of human welfare.
She was a wonderful person with a stunning range of contributions. She gave so much to so many of us.