Monster Study by Wendell Johnson was a popular study when talking about ethical issues regarding research.

Wendell Johnson was a speech pathologist who conducted research regarding the cause and cure for stuttering. He did his experiment with the help of his student Mary Tudor. They did this experiment at an orphanage in Davenport, Iowa. Mary Tudor selected 22 subjects, and none told about the intent of the research. They believed they were getting speech therapy. Among the 22 orphans, they took 10 orphans who mark as stutterers by teachers and matrons. Those 10 orphans divide into two groups IA and IB. Group IA told “you do not stutter, your speech is fine and group IB told, “yes, your speech is bad as people say.”

The remaining 12 children choose randomly, and they were normal orphans. In that set of children, 6 assign as IIA and tell their speech was not normal at all and the other 6 assign as IIB and told they were completely normal and given compliments.

However, the study didn’t go well as they expected. Eventually, more damage happens to the children. Some of the children in group IIA become stutterers and they never fully recovered.

Ethical issues in the research

ethical issues of the Moster Study by Wendell Johnson
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However, according to the article, Wendell Johnson used these children wrongfully targeted and unwillingly used. And he cared very less about the ethical issues of the research. The intention of the research was never got to know to the teachers or the matrons in the orphanage. In this case, the children used in this research do not agree to any consent about the research. And the teachers and matrons who are the legal guardians of those orphans. They all knew about this after this was revealed by a newspaper 60 years later.

It can be thought that the teachers and guardians of the orphanage mislead by the researchers. This deception was never explained to them. Those children and guardians thought that those children getting speech therapy and they trust those researchers and obeyed them. And the study never published, all the studies must balance the potential benefits. But, without publishing and dissemination through the academic community, the study benefits further reduced.

Moreover, the psychological breakdown that those children went through never fully recovered according to the article. The so much negativity saying “yes, your speech is as bad as they say.” Affects the children so much and because of that some healthy children started to quiet, and this may lead the permanent damage psychologically to the child. That implies the researchers obviously did not care about the future of these children. It looks like Wendell Johnson cares about these orphans as experimental “mice”. 

Not to mention, according to the article, I believe that Wendell Johnson become biased in this experiment as he is also very much determined to find a cure for stuttering because he is also suffering from stuttering. Furthermore, he already has a hypothesis in his mind, and he gets too determined to prove it instead of reviewing facts.

Ethical Principles that compromised in the experiment

In this experiment, ethical principles such as beneficence did compromise in this case, Wendell Johnson does not care about the orphan’s well-being. He is just obsessed with his hypothesis and the beneficence of those children has not cared. And nonmaleficence is also compromised as those children are harmed by so much negativity and it causes some children permanently psychologically damaged. And only Wendell Johnson’s student who was frontline in the experiment Mary Tudor try to help those children. But it was no quantified pre- and post-treatment measures for emotional reactions and speech output1Goldfarb, R. (2005). Ethics: A Case Study from Fluency (Illustrated ed.) [E-book]. Plural Publishing.

Not to mention, there was no justice in this experiment as they use without proper consent, and they have no right to withdraw on their own. According to the article, one child ran away from the orphanage. It may be because of the pressure and psychological breakdown that children face.

According to the article, they mention some names of those orphans and the diagnosis of those mentioned children. I believe that is breaching the confidentiality of those children and it may be affected negatively to those children. They should have used pseudonyms without exposing them to the public.

What happened after the research Monster Study by Wendell Johnson?

After the research
Photo by Mohammad Danish:

In the end, the research and the attempts may differ the Wendell Johnson was not obsessed too much with his own theory. And if he give a debrief about the research to the orphanage and getting consent from them was a great backup for him.

Moreover, they should think more about those young children and help them to overcome the psychological breakdown with so much negativity planted in their heads. And if the selection of the group for this research was more logical the result may be more convincing.

He acted biased from the beginning, and it affects the whole experiment, and it ends in a bad way. So, if he did not bias and think logically it may change the steps of the research for the greater good. However, this monster study shows us how an experiment is unethically conducted and how intense it could get. Research or experiment must conduct for the greater good of the society and future by bounding to ethical guidelines.


  • American Psychological Association. (2010). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct (2002, Amended June 1, 2010, and January 1, 2017). Retrieved From
  • Silverman, F. H. (1988). The “monster” study. Journal of fluency disorders, 13(3), 225-231

Cover Image By Mariana Montrazi:

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