When people think of ethics, they think about rules that distinguish between right and wrong; rules that are learnt through childhood and come as ‘common sense’. However, even with simple common sense, ethical issues and conflicts still occur, both in past and present society. Although everyone may recognise the right or wrong thing to do, various individuals may have different ideas to apply the morals in several ways, depending on their own life experiences and values. In research, ethics is ensured by researches to ‘do the right thing by the project, its participants and society at large’ (Weerakkody, 2008). Formal ethic guidelines were created by many different professional associations, government agencies and universities; providing rules and policies for researches to follow and ensure consistency in ethical behaviours and standards as well as the protection of all relevant parties involved.

Throughout history, ethical issues arose due to medical research and experiments such as the Stanford Prison Experiment, the Nuremberg Code, the Nazis and the Tuskagee Syphilis Experiment. Dr Wendell Johnson and Mary Tudor conducted a research study in late 1930s, ‘Monster Study’ to prove his hypothesis that stuttering was a learned behaviour. They recruited twelve orphan children, ranging from 5 to 15, who were non-stutters and split them into two groups. One group would be frequently told that they were stuttering and was put down for every speech imperfection and needed to fix it while the other group was praised for their fluency and was told they didn’t stutter. The research found that the negatively experimented group didn’t result in stuttering, however become extremely reserved and conscious to speak. Although it didn’t support the general hypothesis, it showed that ‘evaluated labelling can influence behaviour’ (Tudor 1939).

Although at the time, ethical laws weren’t exactly identified; many controversial issues of the study were discussed since it was conducted. The greed and curiosity of the researchers brought unethical reasoning and standards to the experiment. The use of readily available orphan children due to the vulnerability and easy deception was an extremely ethical issue as the study affected their speech performance for the rest of their lives. The young children had no idea they were being used like ‘lab rats’ and had no consent whatsoever. Due to the unexpected turn out, results weren’t published in any scientific journal and nothing was made out of the study.

The unpublished results may question Dr Johnson’s reasoning as to why he didn’t publish the negative outcome. Was it because he was afraid it would impact his image as a respected and famous psychologist? Therefore we can question his motives and ethical values and morals. The study went for so long that people involved were believed to struggle to remember exact details. So basically, you can imagine how tormenting it was for those young children who grew up having speech problems because of the study. The ‘Monster Study’ is an extreme example of past ethical issues in research and demonstrates why ethics is so important in the welfare of everything and everyone involved. Its studies like this that changed the ethical research today and altered the moral principles.

References: B, D. (2011). What is Ethics in Research & Why is it Important?. [online]  [Accessed 8 Apr. 2015]. Rahul, G. (2013). The “Monster” study – Author:Rahul Goel. [online] Ethics in Science.  [Accessed 8 Apr. 2015]. Reynolds, G. (2015). The Stuttering Doctor’s ‘Monster Study’. [online]  [Accessed 8 Apr. 2015]. Silverman, F. (1988). The “monster” study. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 13(3), pp.225-231. Vaci, G. and Thorson, E. (2015). The Who, What, When and Where of the “Monster” Study. [online] [Accessed 8 Apr. 2015]. Weerakkody, Niranjala Damayanthi 2008, ‘Research ethics in media and communication’, in Research methods for media and communications, Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand, South Melbourne, Vic., pp. 73-91


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