The “Monster Study”

During the 1930’s, a speech pathologist, Dr. Wendell Johnson, set out to prove that stuttering was a curable infliction. He took a sample of 22 orphans in Iowa, and split them into two groups, those who supposedly stuttered, and those who did not. However, only half of the ‘stuttering’ group actually stuttered. Dr. Johnson instructed the staff of the orphanage, under false pretenses, that the group of ‘normal’ speakers should be praised and rewarded for their speech, while the other group should be punished and harassed. The children who had not previously stuttered, but were being labeled and tormented as such, quickly began to stutter.

Although the experiment was to test the origins of childhood stuttering, I find it interesting that the  children assumed the labels they were given, despite no previous signs of stuttering. Similar to the Stanford prison experiment, this study gives us a great deal of insite into how we, as humans, define ourselves. Unlike the Zimbardi study however, the children were not particularly given a role; they were grouped together and treated poorly, and thus, succumbed to the expectation to stutter. Obviously, we draw a lot of our personal identity from how others identify and treat us.