Thursday, May 31, 2007


I will make a bold assertion that scientists of human behavior have an obligation to study punishment. I am willing to make this assertion because:

1. Punishment is a natural part of the human experience

2. Behavior scientists have a duty to attempt to understand the different parts of the human experience.

3. It has been suggested that natural punishment contingencies make up a significant portion of our learning experiences, maybe more so than reinforcement.

The problem is research in punishment often has low social validity and can even spark rejoinders from concerned parents (Shea & Shea, 1976). Social validity is important in behavior analysis (Wolf, 1978) and other science. Also, various codes such as the Nuremburg Codes and the APA code make it clear that ethics must be taken seriously in research with human participants.

A particular point of concern is punishing research conducted with non-consenting or ill informed participants. A review of even recent history shows this to be a legitimate concern.
The Milgram experiment, the Stanford prison experiment, the US government studies giving radioactive calcium to mentally retarded boys, the Willowbrook vaccine study, and the Tuskegee experiment, all horrifically demonstrate what can happen even in recent years when informed consent or lack of concern for the wellbeing of participants is not given.

Beyond the codes and laws now in place to protect ethics. I would propose an number of additional steps that could be taken to help protect those in the experiment.

1. While in some experiments some deception is permitted provided that the risk of the harm of doing so is especially low, no experiment involving punishment shall any deception be used.

2. Those participating in punishment based research be full, legal adults, given full disclosure of methods and intent, and be of judged capable of making their own decisions. No consent by proxy shall be permitted.

3. The individual will be informed and reminded at least once early in the first session of the experiment of their right to withdraw, without fear of loss, or retribution.

4. If the participant(s) are also the investigators, all the same rules still apply.

That's my idea at least. Ideas, criticisms, concerns, hate mail, etc. welcome in the comments section.


Anonymous Ms. Clark said...

Reading the EoHarm group emails. Worst. Punishment. Ever. :-) Now. go. read.

I like the studies where they find that rewarding kids causes them to lose interest in the thing being rewarded. Reward as disincentive.

3:20 AM  
Blogger LIVSPARENTS said...

I'm going to commit blasphemy, I feel that the objective analysis of something as subjective as behavioral pattens is, or shall I say can be, hit and miss at best.

Having controlled caveats on who, what and whether they participate invites an artificiality to the results. It's kinda like seeing how people react to a life and death situation if they are told before hand that their life is not REALLY in danger.

That's not to say that you create these experiments outside of those controls, of course. But the subjects for your criterea would wind up being relatively stable individuals. Don't we need to see, have data on, reactions of many types of psyches?

1:03 PM  

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