Beneficence in protection of human subjects

Research Ethics

The little Albert experiment

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The little Albert experiment is a famous psychology experiment that was conducted by a behaviorist John. B. Watson. The participant in the experiment was a nine-month-old boy and he was exposed to various stimuli that included a white rat, monkey, masks and burning news papers and the reactions of the boy were observed. Initially no fear was expressed by the boy at any objects shown to him. A loud noise was made when he was next exposed to the rat and it was natural for the boy to cry upon the loud noise. The white rat and noise were paired repeatedly and the boy began to cry whenever he saw the rat. It showed that fear would be conditioned (Cherry, 2010). This paper will examines various unethical research behaviors that were involved in the little Albert experiment, the injured people in the experiment and lessons that are applicable to organizations or the community when it comes to protection of Human subjects.

Unethical research behavior

The experiment was very controversial and in fact it cannot be conducted by the standards that are set today, this is because it was quite unethical as per the research conduct and behavior. First of all Albert was very young at the first time the experiment was being conducted. Therefore he could not make any informed consent on whether or not he would like to participate in the experiment. This is against the respect for persons in the protection for human subjects as special considerations are to be made when dealing with participants who are incapable of making informed decisions.

Secondly it is unethical to evoke reactions of fear to a human in a laboratory setting except when the person who is participating has given an approval that is informed to be horrified for experimental purposes, experiments are therefore not supposed to make the people who are taking part in them suffer distress that is not necessary or even undergo any physical harm. This was against the beneficence in the protection of human subjects as it requires that research participants should be protected from harm including stress and physical injury. It should be always important that the welfare of the human participating in the experiment be considered first in any research whatsoever. This is particularly an issue to be taken serious especially when it comes to groups that are protected like children. Respect for persons under the protection for human rights was violated. According to this a participant is supposed to be given the opportunity to withdraw from taking part in the experiment any time. The right to withdraw was questionable since Albert was distressed with the experiment but it still went on (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 2005).

Injured parties

When the experiment was being conducted little Albert was exposed to many stimulants that included monkey, a white rat, masks, a burning newspaper. All these things have a potential of harming the little boy. They are all risky and incase they were not well handled then it meant that the little boy could be exposed to danger. This was risky considering the age of the boy and knowing that at this age children are quite curious and he could have just been curious at the things that were being presented to him. This could have prompted him to touch them and hence the impending danger. He could be burnt by the burning news papers or even bitten by the white rat or monkey.

Lessons from experiment

Anyone conducting a research must ensure that they put into consideration the ethical and psychological consequences of those who are taking part in the experiment. Therefore there are several lessons that organizations and the whole community at large can learn from this experiment. First there should be respect for persons which means that anyone who is taking part in the research should be given information on the research activity and accorded the appropriate respect, time and opportunity of making a decision of participating. Anyone who is incapable of making informed decisions should be protected. Secondly there should be beneficence meaning that the gains should outweigh the risks to human participants in the experiment. This means the organizations must not just look at the benefits the experiment or decision is likely to bring to the organization, but also consider the potential harms. The third lesson is justice, which means the participant selection should be done fairly and not inclined towards favoring or disfavoring some people within the organization taking into account the influence they have in the organization (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 2005).


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2005). Protection of human subjects [Issues in Ethics]. Retrieved February 27, 2013 from

Cherry, K. (2010).The Little Albert Experiment. Retrieved February 27, 2013 from

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