Should children be allowed to participate in psychological research?
Experiments are carried out within psychology all the time and many of these involve children, as young as babies. Many people may say that it is unethical to conduct experiments using children but I think that there are both strengths and weaknesses to this argument.
Using children of varying ages in psychological experiments provides a valuable and interesting understanding of the development of a child’s mind and behaviour. This was shown in Piaget’s stages of development where he concluded that there were four different stages in the development of children: sensory motor stage, pre-operational stage, concrete operational stage and formal operations stage. Using children as the subjects of experiments can also provide an insight to how mental disorders or illnesses develop over time, for example aspergers or autism. Baren Cohen carried out research into autism in children and he carried out the Sally-Anne test, which measures a person’s social cognitive ability to attribute false beliefs to others.
Carrying out research on children should be allowed if the parents have given consent, but the wellbeing and health of the child definitely have to be considered. However I don’t think parents would put their child forward for an experiment where they know it could cause physical or physiological harm. This was shown in the Bobo doll experiment where the children watched an adult (role model) be aggressive to the bobo doll and the children imitated the behaviour. This could be seen as unethical as it is teaching children violence at a young age and this could impact their personality in later life.
However, some people would argue that children shouldn’t be allowed to take part in research as it can be unethical and cruel to the children. An extreme example of this was where children were drugged whilst participating in a fertility study. Researchers pumped 8 year old girls full of the diabetes drug metformin for four years to see how it would affect their fertility later on. None of the children had diabetes though and they took the drugs until they were 13. I think this is a highly unethical study and that it is an experiment that should never have been allowed to take place. Other more famous examples of psychological experiments using children include Little Albert and the Genie study.
Overall as a research method using children as the participants of a study is good for looking at development and mental disorders. Despite this, I think there has to be a line that’s drawn as to what is acceptable for a child to take part in. An experiment where pain is caused should not be allowed at all in my opinion. Psychological research is a demanding area and researchers want to try out new experiments all the time and we have to accept that some of these are going to involve children.