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Week 11 Blog

Should children be able to participate in psychological research?

This is a question I was asked when I studied A level psychology and one which can evoke strong emotions from people who do extensive research into the area, there are areas of child research which has proven the child was put in situations which were highly unethical and should never be allowed to be repeated.

A lot of research is done using children, for example Mary Ainsworth’s Stranger Attachment research was done using small children and babies in order to see different types of attachment with mothers and how introducing strangers to the child resulting in affecting their behaviour. From watching videos of this research taking place, it can be seen that children with weak attachment to their parents were distressed when they left the room, but equally as distressed when the stranger entered, they could not be comforted by either. This begs the question of whether the means outweighs the distress, does the result of the research outweigh the visible distress caused to the child.
There are many different psychological experiments that have been carried out on children which have been highly unethical, studies like this is what have caused people to question whether they should be allowed to or not. Another example is ‘The Monster Study’ conducted in 1939 by Wendell Johnson in which he carried out a stuttering experiment on 22 orphaned children who suffered with stuttering, half the children received positive speech therapy and showed improvement whereas the other half received negative feedback and were made to feel belittled. Over half of the children who received the negative therapy suffered with their speech problems for many years and suffered negative psychological effects. Even Johnson’s peers were shocked that he would carry out this sort of research on children.

Also ‘Little Albert’ was a child exposed to white objects and accompanied by a loud banging noise behind his head, through this Albert developed a psychological discomfort to anything white. He left the hospital before he could be desensitised from this association.

However since the release of strict ethical regulations, research with children is carried out the same way that it is with an adult. The parent /guardian of the child signs the consent form and stays with the child during the research, however, the child has no say in the situation and in many cases, do not have a true understanding of what is happening to them. They are debriefed and the parents can withdraw them at any time if the child is seen to be in a state on psychological distress.

With regards to research using children I believe that as long as the guidelines of the APA are followed vigorously and the child is not put into any potential danger and will not suffer long term effects of the experiment then research should be allowed to occur. Experiments such as the monster study and little Albert should never take part again. Children in research have provided great theories into psychology through participating in these research situations.

http://www.simplypsychology.org/mary-ainsworth.html

http://listverse.com/2008/09/07/top-10-unethical-psychological-experiments/

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Comments on: "Week 11 Blog" (7)

  1. Good blog and I have to say I agree with everything you say. As long as the guidelines are followed closely, and the child is looked after, then research should be able to be carried out.
    However, although the experiments such as Little Albert are horrific, think about how much they contributed to psychology. These experiments pushed the boundaries and the APA have since banned studies which are considered similarly unethical. It is immoral to provoke fears in humans, and cause unnecessary distress or harm. But it has be to be taken into account that this sort of research has inspired other important researchers of the past and still continues to have an impact on the direction of psychological investigation today. The “Little Albert” implications had a profound effect on the world at the time; these findings still have a massive influence in psychology today, especially in terms of therapy. Without these significant experiments, psychology would not have moved on so much.

    • So you believe that the ends in Albert’s case justify the means? I have to disagree. I don’t believe that Albert should have had to “take one for the team” as it were. He was only a child and couldn’t decide for himself whether he wanted to be scared half to death and left scared for the rest of his life. Watson did want to “fix” Albert, but never could. This means that because some researcher wanted to find something out, he was left suffering for the rest of his life. You may think that’s OK, but imagine it was your child, or your little brother or sister – wouldn’t be “justified” i assume.
      I agree that the research told us a lot – but if you asked Albert whether or not he deemed his sacrifice worth it,, i doubt he’d be chuffed with the finished experiment or frame the journal article.

  2. I really like your blog – very thought provoking, and you raise some very good points. ‘Does the ends justify the means?’ is a very difficult to answer with one word. It is all very dependent on the case, and the extent to which something bad resulted in something good. It also depends on how bad the bad bit was, and how good the outcome was. Relating it back to the Little Albert idea, yes, we found out a lot from this, but we basically damaged a child for life in the process. Now we are all allowed our own opinions on whether this was right or wrong, so I’m not going in to debate on that now!

    However, as you say, it is the parent’s responsibility to ensure the child’s safety and happiness when they’re taking part in studies. Part of me wonders why any parent would want their child to be observed, and manipulated, and investigated, and asked questions etc etc etc. And the honest answer has to be for the reimbursement or money that parents get for taking part in the studies. I know the majority of studies are thankfully harmless to the kids, and the chances are they’re not going to remember it, but how can a parent let some stranger study their child, and stand back even if that child ends up crying, or looks like they’re in distress? I know the parent can stop the study and withdraw at any time, but still, they’ve just put their kid through some distress, all in the name of money?

    So, yeah, children should definitely be used in research – we learn so much from them, in many a field. But is it right that the parents are letting us use their children as guinea pigs? I’m not a parent, so couldn’t say what I’d do with my kid, but there would have to be a pretty good incentive to let a stranger investigate my child!

  3. I completely agree with you as long as guidelines are followed and a child is not put in danger then yes children should be allowed to participant in research. Throughout the years using children in experiments has provided us with interesting and even more so valuable understandings of a child, for example Piaget’ stages of development and Baren Cohens study on autism in children through the use of the Sally-Anne test.

    However despite such valuable findings a line must be drawn just like it should with adult participants, no physical or psychological harm should be placed upon a child. For instance the bobo doll experiment by Bandura, I would never have given consent for my child to participant in such an experiment (if I had a child). Within this experiment children watched either an aggressive or non-agressive model. In the case of the aggressive model, they were hitting, punching and verbally abusing the bobo doll while the child was watching, the results shown that children who observed the aggressive model made more imitative aggressive responses than those who did not. Therefore this violence may be carried out of the experimental situation and have impact upon that child’s life.

    Therefore yes like you said children should participant but there is always that thin line that should not be crossed and Bandura crossed it in my mind.

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