Major Movements in Psychology

Psychology As a Science

How have laws changed to protect people from abusive scientific experiments?

The history of scientific research with human subjects has been fraught with abuses. Examples abound, including the Nazis’ murderous experiments on concentration camp victims and the infamous Tuskegee experiments of the 1930s in which poor and uneducated African American men with syphilis were deliberately deprived of available treatments.

Psychological research is not excluded from this disturbing history. Examples include Stanley Milgram’s work in the 1960s, in which subjects were falsely led to believe that they were causing pain, injury, and even death by administering electric shocks to another person. John Watson’s treatment of Little Albert provides another example.

Starting in the 1940s, a series of national and international laws were instituted to protect the rights of human subjects in research studies. In 1947 the Nuremburg code laid down an international code of ethics regarding human experiments. In the 1960s, a series of laws was passed in the United States further developing these protections. The establishment of independent review boards to oversee the safety and ethics of human research in all American research institutions dates from this period.

Currently, Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) or Human Subjects Review Committees must approve all studies conducted with human subjects. Most academic journals require IRB approval of any study submitted for publication.


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