Ethics in Conditioning Research



Ethics In Conditioning Research

Amber Grey, Mary Oliver, Vanessa Rodriguez, & Debra Saunders

PSYCH / 635

Ms. Chelsea Hansen

February 2, 2015

Ethics in Conditioning Research

Research and experimentation has changed tremendously over the decades. Earlier research and experiments had little to no regard for human safety or ethics. The American Psychological Association (APA) created ethical guidelines that now govern all professionals in the psychology field. Ivan Pavlov is known for his work in classical conditioning is most famous for his work salivating dogs. However, Pavlov also performed the same experiments with children using some of the same methods. In one of Pavlov’s experiment shown from Film Media Group (2010), Pavlov attached an instrument to the child’s arm and a tube above his mouth that dispense cookies when a lever was pressed. When the level was pressed causing pressure to the child’s arm, a cookie was released out of the tube directly into the child’s mouth. Over time whenever the lever was pressed the child would automatically start chewing whether there was a cookie present or not. This research proposal is designed to recreate the experiment that Pavlov did with children that were unethical by today’s standards.


The American Psychological Association (APA) has created and place ethical guidelines that are for all professionals in the psychology field to follow that not only protect the professionals but also the individuals who participate in the experiments. Pavlov’s Experiment with the children has shown some ethical violations that violated the children’s rights according to the APA guidelines in place today. One of the Ethical Violations in Ivan Pavlov’s Experiment was the Principle A: Beneficence and Nonmaleficence (APA, 2015). This ethical principle states that the psychologist seeks to have safeguards for the welfare, rights and safety of those who interact professionally and those who are participating in the experiment including animals. Pavlov’s research experiment did not take the children’s safety, well-being and rights as a human being into consideration on how these children would be affected by the experiment. Pavlov had little regards to the human safety which was why Pavlov’s experiment violated the ethical guideline.


The way in which Ivan Pavlov performed his experiments on children in today’s ethical standards would be considered harsh, cruel, and inhumane. Children and dogs were treated unfairly and often times unnecessary surgical procedures were performed in the experiments. Ethically the experiments would not be permitted in society today because of the APA standards and guidelines that must be followed. Ethically by today’s standards of appropriateness Pavlov’s experiments on children can be recreated. The experiments would need to be modified to protect the physical welfare and psychological well-being of the participants. Pavlov believed that unlike animals, humans could learn conditioned responses more rapidly (Schunk, 2012).

The first recommendation to help with the experiment for Pavlov’s experiment with children would be to give the child a pat on the arm for a reflex, if the child response he or she would receive a treat. This would take the place of pressure to the arm, which may cause harm to the child. The second recommendation is for the researcher to have the child choose a good choice or bad choice behavior; if the child chooses the good choice he or she receives a treat, if the child chooses the bad choice behavior he or she does not receive the treat. This experiment does not reflect harm to the child in any way, but does teach the child the difference between good and bad choices. When the experiment is repeated the child learns to make good choices for the reward. The third recommendation is verbal praise and verbal prompts. Using the two together children can have a positive response to the request of the researcher. When the researcher gives the verbal prompt and the child response appropriately, the researcher responds with verbal praise. Instead of using food for rewards the researcher can use verbal praise to help the child with positive reinforcements. The action should be repeated to help the child remember what he or she is supposed to do and when. It is unclear if Pavlov received informed consent to do invasive procedures to children in his experiments. When conducting research on child under the age of 18, it is important to obtain verbal or written consent from a parent or legal guardian before carrying out any type of experiment (American Psychological Association, 2015). If consent is not obtained from the parent or guardian it is a violation of Principle B: Fidelity and Responsibility. Ethical standards must be met when working in the field of research in relation to animals and humans (American Psychological Association, 2015).


This research proposal is designed to recreate the experiment performed by Ivan Pavlov that involved children. Pavlov’s treatment of the children was unethical by today’s standards. Pavlov is famous for his experiments in classical conditioning involving salivating dogs. Pavlov also performed the same experiments with children using similar methods to those used on the dogs. Pavlov’s experiment on a child is shown in a film from the Film Media Group (2010). The use of invasive surgery techniques has far-reaching implications involving the physical and psychological well-being of the subjects and participants for the remainder of their lives. Research and experimentation have changed greatly since Pavlov conducted his experiments. Pavlov’s research and experiments violated many of the ethical guidelines put in place to protect research participants according to the American Psychological Association (APA). There is a high probability that the surgically implanted tubes caused physical harm to the children and the dogs.

Pavlov’s experiments on children violated Principle A: Beneficence and Nonmaleficence, which states psychologists seek to safeguard the welfare and rights of those with whom they work with professionally to take care to do them no harm. This principle protects the welfare and well-being of person’s and animals who are research subjects. This amounts to a violation of ethical principles and undermines the children’s rights to privacy and confidentiality. The effects of the experiments likely caused psychological damage to the subjects and participants. There are methods that could be used to produce the same results, without violating the child’s ethical rights, such as a pat on the arm, a reward for a good choice, or verbal praises or prompts, using praise as a reward instead of a cookie. It is also important to remember to obtain parental consent when working with subjects under the age of 18; otherwise it is a violation of Principle B: Fidelity and Responsibility. Ethical standards must be met when working in the field of research with children and animals.


American Psychological Association, (2015). Ethical Principles of Psychologist and Code of

Conduct, Including 2010 Amendments.

Films Media Group (2010). Pavlov’s experiments on children. From Title: Into the Mind: Mind

Control. Retrieved from UOP Electronic Reading

Films Media Group (2010). Pavlov’s experiments on dogs. From Title: Into the Mind: Mind

Control. Retrieved from UOP Electronic Reading

Nagy, T. F. (2011). The general ethical principles of psychologists. In Essential ethics for

Psychologists: A primer for understanding and mastering core issues, 46-93.

Schunk, E. (2012). Learning theories: An educational perspective (6th ed). Boston, MA: Pearson Education

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