psychology is a discipline that has a sordid history in terms of ethics (remember Little Albert, the baby who was conditioned to fear fuzzy objects?).
These days, before you can begin psychological experiments (whether on humans or animals), you must be approved by an ethics committee at your institution. You may not know this, but Glenville has an Institutional Review Board, and all research must be in compliance with this ethical board. All experiments must recognize any potential for risk to participants, and justify the benefits of the research in regard to that risk. All ethics boards will tell you,every single experiment carries some risk.
I’d like you to listen to the short (9 minute) MP3 about a not-so-well known experiment, which has an outcome that might surprise you. Then, I’d like you give me a brief essay that addresses the following concerns:
1) Although the example in the MP3 is an isolated, extreme case, and there is no solid evidence to suggest the research led to the final outcome… how much risk do you think was really involved? Is it something that a normal person would have trouble with?
2) How can we judge if the benefits are worth the risks a psychological study might impose? Why or why not?
3) What could psychologists do differently to minimize risk, even in very intense studies like the one in the story?
download the MP3 below, or it can also be found online as the first story from this “Oops” episode of Radiolab. It starts about 4.5 minutes into the show.