What is the Monster Study?
The Monster Study is a famously unethical piece of research conducted by Professor Wendell Johnson in the 1930’s. Johnson, along with his graduate student, Mary Tudor, tried to uncover the cause of stuttering by inducting “stuttering-like disfluencies” in typically fluent children. Their study included gathering about 20 “participants” from the local orphanage and attempting cause them to begin stuttering by telling them objectively terrible things about their speech, specifically the following:
“The staff has come to the conclusion that you have a great deal of trouble with your speech. The type of interruptions which you have are very undesirable. These interruptions indicate stuttering. … You must try to stop yourself [from stuttering] immediately. Use your willpower. Make up your mind that you are going to speak without a single interruption. … Don’t ever speak unless you can do it right. You see how (the name of a child in the orphanage who stuttered rather severely) stutters, don’t you? Well he undoubtedly started this very same way… Watch your speech every minute and try to do something to improve it. Whatever you do, speak fluently and avoid any interruptions whatsoever in your speech.” (Ambrose & Yairi, 2002)
In the end, the researchers failed to cause true stuttering in any of the children they subjected to their study and the study was quickly tucked away for its questionable nature.
What can we learn from the Monster Study?
We, as healthcare providers and loved ones alike, can learn two things from the Monster Study.
Nothing said to or about a person can cause them to stutter.
The cause of stuttering is rooted in the brain and anatomy of a person. While it may be tempting to wonder if a stutter was caused by the negative attitude or words of a person around the stutterer, it is simply not possible. No one is to blame for the existence of stuttering.
The things said to and about a person who stutters can affect their communication attitudes.
The children subjected to the Monster Study were not made to stutter; however, they were made to be very self-conscious and unconfident in their speech and communication. We can avoid this effect by providing a loving and supportive environment for the person who stutters with which to bolster their communication attitude.
For more information on stuttering, visit the Lang Stuttering Institute at the University of Texas, Austin.
Ambrose, N. & Yairi, E. (2002). The Tudor Study: Data and Ethics. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 11(2), 190-203. doi:1058-0360/02/1102-0190