Monitor on Psychology - March 2012 - (Page 13)
Their clinical hypotheses were validated when Irons procured medical records from Johns Hopkins University. They verify that Merritte indeed had congenital hydrocephalus, and recounted in disturbing detail treatments the child was subjected to during his first year of life, including repeated cranial and lumbar punctures to reduce fluid buildup in the brain. Moreover, medical staff repeatedly injected diagnostic dyes that caused toxic reactions, and by their own admission, introduced bacterial meningitis that led to damaging high fevers. (It is unclear from the records whether the infection was caused accidentally or experimentally.) The records also confirm that there is no overlap between the times the investigators tested Little Albert and the times the infant was acutely ill, offering further evidence that Little Albert was indeed Douglas Merritte and suggesting Watson was aware of the child’s changing medical status. Because the evidence so clearly supports Watson’s cognizance of Albert’s condition, the conclusion that he intentionally misrepresented it is nearly inescapable, the authors contend. Yet in testing a neurologically impaired child, Watson may simply have embodied the mentality of researchers of the time, they say. Historical evidence suggests it was standard practice to use poor, sick infants and children as experimental subjects; given her low social status as a poor, single woman, Arvilla Merritte may well have felt pressured into offering up her child because she couldn’t otherwise obtain the expensive medical treatments available from the doctors who employed her. The findings shed an important modern light on an old teaching chestnut, Fridlund believes. “Because Watson and Rayner tried to condition fear in an infant and made no effort to follow him after discharge and insure his well-being, the Little Albert study has always led us to consider basic issues of experimental ethics,” he says. “But now it forces us to confront deeper, more disturbing issues like the medical misogyny, the protection of the disabled and the likelihood of scientific fraud. It’s a story all psychologists can learn from.”
New research identifies ways to improve eyewitness identifications
For the first time, a study of real-world police lineups shows that witnesses more accurately identify perpetrators when they see photos of suspects one at a time rather than all at once. Iowa State University psychologist Gary Wells, PhD, led the study, and released preliminary findings through the American Judicature Society, which funded the research. “This study is a notable step forward in eyewitness field experiments,” says law and psychology expert Steven Penrod, PhD, a professor at City University of New York. “The procedures and the data are the strongest to date and the results confirm laboratory findings showing that sequential procedures can significantly reduce identification errors.” Years of laboratory research have supported the use of socalled sequential presentations in showing witnesses photos. But a 2006 study conducted by Chicago police, and published in Law and Human Behavior in 2008, raised doubts about using sequential presentation in the real world. However, researchers, including Princeton’s Daniel Kahneman, PhD, and Harvard’s Daniel Schacter, PhD, quickly found flaws in the Chicago study design, including the fact that police officers administering the lineups were not blind to who the real suspect was. Based on those criticisms, the American Judicature Society set out to design a foolproof, real-world comparison of the two techniques, led by Wells and psychologists Nancy Steblay, PhD, of Augsburg College, and Jennifer Dysart, PhD, of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The team used state-of-the-art methodology agreed upon by a team of eyewitness scientists, lawyers, prosecutors and police. It was a randomized, controlled trial conducted with real witnesses and criminals within the Austin, Texas; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.; Tucson, Ariz.; and San Diego police departments. Police used laptop computers to administer photo lineups to ensure that they followed the study procedures accurately and reliably. The sequential lineups led to fewer false identifications: 12 percent versus 18 percent for the all-at-once method. Wells sees his study as a vindication of the sequential procedure as well as laboratory-based studies. “This was a very important study to convince some of the hold-outs who have dismissed this whole area of science because it’s based on lab experiments,” he says.
Click here to see a video of the Little Albert experiment.
To read the study, go to www.psychology.iastate.edu/~glwells
M a rc h 2 0 1 2 • M o n i to r o n p s yc h o l o g y
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