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Psychology course week 12

The current chapter involves Harlow's monkeys and attachment.  Whilst the world did learn a few interesting things from Harlow's initial experiments - his experiments became pretty sick in later years.

It was thought that babies only formed attachment because mothers gave them food.  He started off in studying attachment by noting how baby monkeys taken form their natural mothers became attached to cloth pads in their cages.  He then set up two metal figures; one dispensed milk and the surface was a wire mesh and was cold, the other had no milk but was covered in towelling and a lightbulb underneath gave out warmth.  The monkeys stayed with the cloth mother all the time and only went to the metal mother to feed and then came straight back.  And so the emotional side of maternal bonding was 'proved'.

So far we have studied the Millgram experiment (giving electric shocks to people), the Bandura experiment (encouraging kids to violently beat up a large doll), the Little Albert conditioning (frightening a kid into fearing a cuddly rat) experiment, the Zimbardo prison experiment (look it up if you haven't heard of it) and now Harlow.

Not an endearing bunch but a good introduction to why we have ethics committees.

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That last line pretty much sums up what I think about this lot, too.

Here's the conundrum: knowing this stuff is important -- the Stanford Prison Study, for example, underpins our understanding of phenomena like the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, and should be an important teachable moment for anyone working in the penal or rehab system. But the experiments themselves ... how do you conduct experiments if the outcomes for the human subjects are potentially very damaging and prior informed consent would wreck the experimental protocol but the potential pay-off is of that order?

(I have no good answer to this question other than "if you're going to hurt people you'd better have a very good reason -- one you'd be willing to use in your defense in court when they prosecute you.")

Agree it is important to know the building blocks of Psychology and most of those key learning points could not have come about if there was a strong ethics culture at the time.

Agree with your answer.

Which suddenly reminds me of this ghastly kidnap/murder from Germany -- the Magnus Gäfgen case, in which the police chief ordered the detectives to threaten the suspect with torture because they believed the kidnapped child was alive, in captivity, and in immediate danger, and the suspect (who'd collected the ransom and appeared to have no accomplices) refused to say where he was being held.

Kid was dead. Gäfgen went down for murder, and his appeal (civil rights violation due to threat of torture -- no actual torture took place) was thrown out by the appeals court. But IIRC the police chief (Wolfgang Daschner) was suspended and charged with coercion. (That latter article is a lot more damning than the NYTimes report.)

Edited at 2014-04-26 09:52 pm (UTC)

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