Monster Study

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The Monster Study is the name given to a stuttering experiment performed on 22 orphan children in Davenport, Iowa in 1939. It was conducted by Wendell Johnson at the University of Iowa. Johnson chose one of his graduate students, Mary Tudor, to conduct the experiment, and he supervised her research. After placing the children in control and experimental groups, Tudor gave positive speech therapy to half of the children, praising the fluency of their speech, and negative speech therapy to the other half, belittling the children for every speech imperfection and telling them they were stutterers. Many of the normal speaking orphan children who received negative therapy in the experiment suffered negative psychological effects and some retained speech problems for the rest of their lives. Dubbed the "Monster Study" by some of Johnson's peers, who were horrified that he would experiment on orphan children to prove a hypothesis, the experiment was kept hidden for fear Johnson's reputation would be tarnished in the wake of human experiments conducted by the Nazis during World War II. Because the results of the study were never published in any peer-reviewed journal, Tudor's dissertation is the only official record of the details of the experiment.[1]

The University of Iowa publicly apologized for the Monster Study in 2001. Patricia Zebrowski, University of Iowa assistant professor of speech pathology and audiology, notes, "The body of data that resulted from Johnson's work on children who stutter and their parents is still the largest collection of scientific information on the subject of stuttering onset. Although new work has determined that children who stutter are doing something different in their speech production than non-stutterers, Johnson was the first to talk about the importance of a stutterer's thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, and feelings. We still don't know what causes stuttering, but the 'Iowa' way of approaching study and treatment is still heavily influenced by Johnson, but with an added emphasis on speech production."[2]

The study[edit]

The research began with selection of twenty-two subjects from a veterans' orphanage in Iowa. None were told the intent of her research, and they believed that they were to receive speech therapy. Tudor was trying to induce stuttering in healthy children and to see whether telling stutterers that their speech was fine would produce a change. Included among the twenty-two subjects were ten orphans whom teachers and matrons had marked as stutterers before the study began. Tudor and five other graduate students who agreed to serve as judges listened to each of the children speak, graded them on a scale from 1 (poor) to 5 (fluent) and concurred with the school's assessment. Five were assigned to Group IA, the experimental set, and would be told that their speech was fine. The five in Group IB, the control group, would be told that their speech is "as bad as people say".[citation needed]

The remaining 12 children were chosen at random from the population of normally fluent orphans. Six of these were assigned to IIA. These children, ranging in age from 5 to 15, were to be told that their speech was not normal at all, that they were beginning to stutter and that they must correct this immediately. The final six children in Group IIB, similar in age

The experimental period lasted from January until late May 1939, and the actual intervention consisted of Tudor driving to Davenport from Iowa City every few weeks and talking with each child for about 45 minutes. She followed an agreed-upon script. In her dissertation, she reported that she talked to the stuttering youngsters who were going to be told that they did not stutter. She said to them, in part, "You'll outgrow [the stuttering], and you will be able to speak even much better than you are speaking now. . . . Pay no attention to what others say about your speaking ability for undoubtedly they do not realize that this is only a phase."Cite error: A <ref> tag is missing the closing </ref> (see the help page). A spokesman for the University of Iowa called the experiment "regrettable" and added: "This is a study that should never be considered defensible in any era. In no way would I ever think of defending this study. In no way. It’s more than unfortunate."[3][4][page needed] Before her death, Mary Tudor expressed deep regret about her role in the Monster Study and maintained that Wendell Johnson should have done more to reverse the negative effects on the orphan children's speech. Despite Wendell Johnson's role in the creation of the Monster Study, Tudor still felt she had made many positive contributions to speech pathology and stuttering research.[citation needed].

Story origins[edit]

The lawsuit was an outgrowth of a San Jose Mercury News article in 2001 conducted by an investigative reporter.

The article revealed that several of the orphans had long-lasting psychological effects stemming from the experiment. The state tried unsuccessfully to have the lawsuit dismissed but in September 2005, the Iowa's Supreme Court justices agreed with a lower court in rejecting the state's claim of immunity and petition for dismissal.

Many of the orphans testified that they were harmed by the "Monster Study" but outside of Mary Tudor, who testified in a deposition on November 19, 2002, there were no actual eyewitnesses to the events. The advanced age of the three surviving former orphans on the plaintiff's side helped expedite a settlement with the state. The Iowa attorney general's office said in a press release on August 17, 2007, that the settlement of $925,000 was fair and appropriate, although the state refused to accept liability for any potential harm caused to the orphans.

"For the plaintiffs, we hope and believe it will help provide closure relating to experiences from long ago and to memories going back almost 70 years. For all parties, it ends long-running, difficult and costly litigation that only would have run up more expenses and delayed resolution to plaintiffs who are in their seventies and eighties." (DM Register)

Despite the settlement, the debate remains contentious over what harm, if any, the Monster Study caused the orphan children. [Nicholas Johnson], the son of the late Wendell Johnson, has vehemently defended his father. He and some speech pathologists have argued that Wendell Johnson did not intend to harm the orphan children and that none of the orphans were actually diagnosed as "stutterers" at the end of the experiment. Other speech pathologists have condemned the experiment and said that the orphans' speech and behavior was adversely affected by the negative conditioning they received. Letters between Mary Tudor and Wendell Johnson that were written shortly after the experiment ended showed that the children's speech had deteriorated significantly. Mary Tudor returned to the orphanage three times to try to reverse the negative effects caused by the experiment but lamented the fact that she was unable to provide enough positive therapy to reverse the deleterious effects. (Ethics and Orphans. San Jose Mercury News).

Today, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association prohibits experimentation on children when there exists a significant chance of causing lasting harmful consequences. It may be unfair, however, to judge the study by the formal ethical standards that were only created later. The negative consequences of this study appear minor when compared with ethical violations in human subjects research in other fields, conducted throughout the second half of the 20th century. These latter cases, reviewed, approved and funded in major research institutions, sometimes resulted in the death of subjects.[5]

The study was "suppressed"[citation needed] in the sense that Wendell Johnson made no attempt to pursue publication of his results, reportedly on the advice of colleagues, who warned him that the experiment could tarnish his career. However, the thesis was bound, cataloged, and made available in the university's library in identical fashion to all other masters theses. It was often checked out over the years. It was referred to in academic and general publications.

Within the profession of speech pathology, there is to this day no single, agreed-upon hypothesis of stuttering—either as to its cause or a single, most appropriate therapy. (This statement is consistent with what is attributed to Patricia Zebrowski, above).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tudor, Mary (1939). An Experimental Study of the Effect of Evaluative Labeling of Speech Fluency. University of Iowa. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ [2]
  4. ^ Rothwell, J.D. (2003) In the Company of Others: An Introduction to Communication. Mayfield Pub Co.
  5. ^ See generally, Robert Goldfarb, ed., Ethics: A Case Study from Fluency (Oxford and San Diego: Plural Publishing, 2005) -- which is probably the book the author of the entry above intended to reference

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