The monster study on stuttering, by Wendell Johnson

The Monster Study is research conducted in the United States in the 1930s and that she was investigating the effects of different therapies in children with speech and communication disorders.

This study generated debates and controversies that have marked an important part of research in psychology, especially with regard to its ethical dilemmas. Below, we explain what the Monster Study is, how it was approached, and why it is considered a controversial investigation.

    What is Monster Studio?

    The Monster study is research on language influence disorder (stuttering), Which was led by American psychologist Wendell Johnson in 1939. It was conducted under Johnson’s supervision, but directly supervised by one of his graduate students, Maria Tudor.

    The research was developed at the University of Iowa and also involved twenty orphaned children from the Iowa Veterans Orphanage. The main objective of the study was to analyze whether stuttering could be induced and if it could be reduced with therapy based on positive reinforcements.

    Contrary to the theories of the brain which arose in his time, Wendell believed that stuttering is a learned behavior, And that as such, it could be unlearned and induced further.

    According to the psychologist, stuttering occurs when the person who listens to someone with low fluency rates it as something undesirable; question which is perceived by the person speaking and causes him tension and worry.

    The consequence of this tension and worry is that the speaker increases the fluidity of his speech; which generates more distress and again causes stuttering. In other words, for Wedell, stuttering is a consequence of trying to avoid stuttering, which is caused by pressure from the listener.

      Studio design

      The Monster study began by selecting the 22 children who participated. Of these 22 children selected, there were 10 who had stuttering previously detected by their teachers and guardians.

      Next, Tudor and his research team personally assessed the children’s speech. They thus generated a scale of 1 to 5 where the 1 referred to the lowest fluidity; and 5 referred to greater fluidity. Thus, they divided the group of children: 5 of them were assigned to an experimental group and the 5 others to a control group.

      The other 12 children who participated had no language or communication disabilities and they were also chosen at random from the orphanage. Six of these 12 children were also assigned to a control group and the remaining 6 to an experimental group. They were between 5 and 15 years old.

      None of the children knew they were involved in an investigation; they thought they were in fact receiving therapy that would last 4 months, from January to May 1939 (the duration of the study).

      Maria Tudor had prepared a therapy scenario for each group. Half of the children said positive sentences to them, trying to get them to stop paying attention to negative comments other people make about their speech; and in the other half, I would tell them these same negative comments and he would emphasize every mistake in his speech.

      principle results

      The 22 children were divided according to whether they had a language disorder or not, into a control group and an experimental group. Children in the experimental group received language therapy based on positive reinforcement. This included, for example, praising the fluidity of his speech and words. This applied to both children who had stuttering and those who had no or had very little.

      The other half of the children, those in the control group, Tudor gave them therapy based on the opposite: negative reinforcements. For example, he extols all the imperfections of language, despises speech, emphasizes that they were “stammering children.”; and if the children had no problems, he would tell them that they did not speak well and that they had the first symptoms of stuttering.

      The only conclusive result was that the participants in this latter group quickly showed symptoms of anxiety, especially discomfort caused by speaking, which is why they began to obsessively correct each speech, and even to avoid communication. On his own, his schoolwork declined and his behavior changed towards retirement.

      Why is it known as a “monster” studio?

      this study he is known as a “monster” for the ethical dilemmas he engendered. The group of children who received the therapy based on negative reinforcements, also exhibited long-term negative psychological effects, in addition to those who already had speech disorders, they retained them throughout their lives.

      After the study was completed, Tudor returned to the orphanage voluntarily to offer help to those who had developed anxiety and those who had worsened the fluency of their speech. even tried with positive reinforcement therapy.

      Johnson also apologized a year later saying the kids would surely recover over time, although it was clear his study had marked them.

      Johnson’s colleagues and colleagues have called the research “the study of monsters”, calling it unacceptable that orphaned children are used to test a hypothesis. Currently, and after several similar cases, the ethical standards of research in psychology have been considerably reformulated.

      After being hidden, this investigation was brought to light and forcing the University of Iowa to apologize publicly in 2001. That same university faced a multi-thousand dollar lawsuit from several of the children (now adults) who had been affected in the long term by the research.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Goldfarb, R. (2006). Ethics. A case study of fluidity. Plural edition: United States
      • Polti, I. (2013). Research ethics: analysis from a current point of view on paradigmatic research cases in psychology. Paper presented at the V International Congress of Research and Professional Practice in Psychology. Faculty of Psychology, University of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires. [En línea] Available at
      • Rodriguez, P. (2002). Stuttering from the point of view of stutterers. Central University of Venezuela. Accessed May 12, 2018.Available at

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