What Role Does Ethics Play in Experimentation?

What role does ethics play in experimentation? What are some of the ethical issues associated with John B. Watson’s conditioning of phobic responses?

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As I read about Watson’s experimentation of Little Albert, I did not care so much that they scared the child senseless, but that they didn’t fix the problem when they were done. Systematic desensitization could have been used to alleviate the child’s association with rats and scary things (i.e. noise). Who knows how this could affect the child when he got older. It could lead to some major phobias of rats and such. Experimentation should never have lasting results on any human patient or participant. On the other hand, animals are not held to the same standards. I mean, Watson blinded, deafened, and deadened these poor animals so he could find out if they learned the maze through some other perception (i.e. kinesthetics). It is difficult for me to sit here today, benefiting from this knowledge, and point the finger at Watson and say you are a bad guy. For if we were to “give back” all that we know about humans through comparative psychology we would indeed lose a large section of educational psychology, industrial/organizational psychology, and behaviorism at large. Does the end justify the means? I guess, for me, that would depend on how many human lives were saved or improved as a result of the research in question. That would be my litmus test.

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Goodwin, C. J. (2005). A history of modern psychology (2 nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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