The Monster Study

The Monster Study was one such experiment that aimed to examine the effects of stigma on childhood stuttering, but resulted mostly in trauma. In 1939, 22 children from a nearby orphanage, about half of whom stammered, were brought to a team of psychologists at the University of Iowa, headed by Dr. Wendell Johnson, to see if a child "stammered". supposed" versus "normal". The speaker" made no difference to their speech development, although perhaps they should have studied why so many children in this orphanage stammered. Told two groups, one of stammers and one of non-stammers were told that their speech was fine, instructed simply to practice to overcome any difficulties, and praised for their efforts. However, two other, similar groups were punished for their speech and told that they should not speak at all unless they are absolutely sure that they can speak properly.

If it was a contest between a carrot or a stick, the carrot won by a long shot. Speech in the first two groups did not improve or at least worsened, but even those in the second groups who had previously had no stuttering developed problematic speech patterns or stopped talking altogether. Some began showing signs of physical discomfort, such as covering their eyes, and their issues sometimes lasted for years beyond the study's conclusion. Eventually, Johnson realized how immoral it was to subject orphans to a psychological experiment they didn't even understand, let alone consent to, especially as some of their problems worsened. Furthermore, the study ended with the discovery of horrific pseudoscientific experiments conducted by Axis powers against prisoners during World War II, so the rejection of non-consensual studies was at the forefront of discourse among American scholars.

A victim loses consciousness during a sedimentation experiment at Dachau by Luftwaffe doctor Sigmund Rascher, 1942. (Sigmund Rasher/Wikimedia Commons)

For all his efforts, Johnson ultimately decided not to publish his results, but graduate student Mary Tudor used the experiment as a doctoral thesis. When his work was published, he noted that he believed the damage done to the children was significant, although he tried to address some of the complications with follow-up care in his later years. Several decades later, the release of the book Ethics: A Case Study from Fluency, which highlighted the study's flaws, brought it to public attention once again. Some speech pathologists found its final findings useful, at least in terms of what not to do, but seven subjects sued the state of Iowa over the lasting effects of the study, and in 2007, they were awarded $1.2 million. to be done.

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