Stuttering Experiment On Orphans: A Monster Study

The brain develops most rapidly in the first few years of a child’s life. Also the ongoing interchange between genes and different environments – within which children are born, grow, learn and live – shapes the developing brain. During these critical years, the foundation is laid for a child’s physical and mental health, affecting everything from longevity to the lifelong capacity to learn, from the ability to adapt to change to the capacity for resilience against adverse circumstances.

In 1939 an experiment was conducted on orphan children. There were total of 22 orphan children in the experiment. The experiment was conducted by Dr. Wendell Johnson, a speech pathologist.

Why Dr. Wendell did this experiment?

During the 1930s it was thought that stuttering is genetic cause. Dr. Wendell knew that this believe was wrong. So as to prove stuttering is not a genetic cause. , he conducted an experiment with Mary Tudor. Mary was a graduate student and working under Dr. to learn how the speech pathologist works. The facets of the experiment are as follows:

  • Dr. Wendell first recruited 22 orphans. And the children were never told that they had been involved in a study, until it was revealed by a newspaper over 60 years later. In addition the teachers and administrators of the orphanage were also misled about the purpose of the study. This deception was never explained to them.

  • Children were then divided into two groups. The first were labeled normal speakers and the second stutterers. Crucially only half of the group labelled stutterers did actually show signs of stuttering.
  • They conducted different experiments on both the groups. Mary was the one who asked questions and worked on children speech. She was told by Dr. Wendell to praise group first children and condemn the second group.

Even if the children from the second group spoke clearly without stuttering, they were not praised and instead scolded, while the first group children were always praised.

What went wrong then?

Of the six normal children in the stuttering group, five began stuttering after the negative therapy. Three became worse. In comparison, only one of the children in the group labelled normal had greater speech problems after the study. After realizing the power of experiment Dr. Wendell tried to undo the effect. He failed. The stuttering effect was permanent. And from then, the orphans labelled stutterers had to cope with for the rest of their lives.

On 17 August 2007, six of the orphan children were awarded a total of $925,000 by the State of Iowa for lifelong psychological and emotional scars caused by six months of torment during the Iowa University experiment.

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