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Psych 635 Ethics In Conditioning Research

Psych 635 Ethics in Conditioning Research

The principles and guidelines that help us uphold the things we value are known as ethics. There are a set of ethical guidelines that must be followed in research. To avoid unethical mistakes, the researcher must carefully consider all ethical issues that may arise during a study and plan and design the study. Pavlov’s conditioning experiments added much knowledge and understanding to a once-mysterious process. Pavlov’s experiments with his dogs revealed information about unconditioned responses to the unconditioned stimulus. Pavlov demonstrated that dogs who do not learn to salivate in the presence of food could learn to salivate in the presence of something neutral, such as the sound of a bell. This gave Pavlov a wealth of information about learning and conditioning, which he wanted to branch out and apply to humans. Pavlov conducted experiments on children in which he presented them with food. One child was strapped to a chair with force-fed cookies, while another had a surgically implanted device to collect his saliva. Learning caused significant changes in their behavior. The experiments would be unethical if carried out today.

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Experiment Overview

After experimenting with his dogs, Pavlov experimented with conditioned reflexes, which some did not learn. Pavlov noticed that when children saw food, they did not salivate. This was extremely difficult for him to comprehend because children were born with this reflex. Pavlov gave the child a bowl of food and then measured his salivary secretions (McLeod, 2007). Pavlov discovered that an object or event with which a child had learned to associate food would elicit the same response. Pavlov later discovered that the children he studied had a learned association between food and his lab assistant (McLeod, 2007). This was measured by the children at the start of the experiment without knowing the lab assistant would bring food, and after repetition, they began associating the assistant with food. Their behavior changed significantly as a result of learning.

Ethical Breach

Pavlov’s experiment on conditioning children demonstrated that conditioned reflexes were not limited to dogs. During these experiments, some children were surgically implanted with a device that collected saliva as they ate. In another experiment, a child was strapped into a device that limited his movement to only moving his mouth. These experiments have the same ethical issue that today would prohibit these experiments, which is principle E of psychologists’ ethical code (2014). This requires any psychiatrist or psychologist researching to respect the individual’s dignity and privacy (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, 2014). Pavlov’s experiment violated his principle in both experiments because the children were subjected to demeaning testing procedures. That one child had a surgically implanted gadget on his face was utterly degrading. While the other child was strapped to a table and another machine squeezed his hand, he was forced to eat cookies. As a result of the American Psychological Association’s code of conduct, this would not be tolerated in research today.

Alternative Strategy

When dealing with ethical issues, one must remember the person’s dignity and privacy. In this case, failing to respect the participant’s dignity and privacy is a violation for which an alternative way to meet the ethical code of conduct in today’s standards must be found. Pavlov might ha better off sticking to animals versus human subjects at the time. When it came to ethical concerns and approaches to dealing with his experiments, Pavlov did his best. However, in today’s world, there are ethical approaches that could become an alternative approach to Pavlov’s experiment. Instead of using humans, Pavlov could have used other methods to understand classical conditioning, such as models, rats, mice, or other readily available organisms. Another approach is to avoid altering the participant or organism through surgical or physical means that would result in physical altercations, possibly allowing him to examine and research without surgery or force. Pavlov appeared to use ethical standards that would meet current standards in animal well-being and pain and suffering. When possible, living animals are replaced by nonsentient mate animals, which replaced mammals with computer models; anime animals replace mammals ‘developed nervous systems; whole animals are replaced by the decerebration of ones or isolated organ systems in modern research (Kopaladze, 2000).

Review of Literature

Current research in the field of conditioning theory experimentation with children attempts to identify methods of practice that can meet high ethical standards of professionalism while being scrutinized by stringent funding sources and Internal Review Boards. Researchers are bound by ethical principles such as “respect for people’s rights and dignity,” according to the American Psychological Association’s (APA, 2015) Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (General Principles, Principle E). “Psychologists recognize that special safeguards may be required to protect the rights and well-being of individuals or communities whose vulnerabilities impair autonomous decision making” (APA, 2015, General Principles, Principle E). Modern research shows that technological advances can help in conditioning theory research and produce results similar to Pavlov’s with a lower risk of ethical violations.

According to Neumann, Waters, and Westbury (2008), the use of unpleasant sounds as an unconditional stimulus in a “Pavlovian conditioning procedure” that is not harmful to children is a viable solution (p. 622). According to Neumann et al. (2usingthy adults have the right to consent to the use of mildly painful electric shocks or loud tones. Children and people with neurological or cognitive impairments, on the other hand, “present several special ethical limitations” (Neumann et al., 2008, p. 622). Neumann et al. (2008) discovered that replacing physical pain with unpleasant sounds due to their annoyance is an equivalent replacement as an unconditional stimulus. Neumann et al. (2008) studied a group of 7 boys and eight girls aged 13 to 17 to determine the types of annoying noises best suited for conditioning and the strength of conditioning with the various noises. Neumann et al. (2008) assessed children’s ratings of unpleasant sounds using a 9-point linear scale and a one-way ANOVA. Neumann et al. (2008) concluded that, while unpleasant odors could be a reasonable substitute for pain, the unpleasant sound of “mg scraped on slate” produced the highest level of conditioning results. Furthermore, children rated this sound unpleasant but tolerable, implying that the authors had few ethical concerns.

Waters et al. (2009) conducted a similar study in which they used loud noises as an unconditional stimulus in a “discriminative Pavlovian conditioning procedure” to produce “skin conduction responses” in children with anxiety disorders (p. 311). Waters et al. (2009) state that “anxiety disorders are one of the most common forms of psychopathology in children, with prevalence rates ranging from 10% to 20%.” (p. 311). According to Waters et al. (2009), many research studies using Pavlovian conditioning with adult populations have been successful, but little is currently known about using aversive conditioning with children suffering from anxiety disorders due to extensive ethical challenges. Waters et al. (2009) chose 35 children aged 8 to 12 udy. The children were separated into two groups: 17 anxious children and 18 non-anxious children. “All of the children took part in an experimental protocol approved by the institutional human research ethics committee” (Waters et al., 2009, p. 313). Waters et al. (2009) used a procedure that included children’s initial anxiety ratings series of pictures while listening to pre-recorded loud noises and subsequent measurement of skin conduction responses. Waters et al. (2009) performed a “chi-square analysis of children’s correct versus incorrect awareness of the controlled stimulus” in their data analysis (p. 315). Waters et al. (2009) discovered that children with anxiety disorders had increased levels of physical response when exposed to loud noises. “These findings are broadly consistent with the hypothesis that impaired inhibition of fear responses to safety signals may be an underlying process of pathological anxiety” (p. 319).


Participants in this study will be young children aged two to six years old who attend local daycare and preschool programs. Flyers will be distributed to every daycare and preschool willing to accept postings requesting a parental response. All parents who respond to the advertisement will be contacted by email and given full disclosure of the scope and purpose of the research, research methods, and contact information to request additional information if needed. In addition, each parent will be asked to complete and return a health screening questionnaire detailing each child’s medical history. A third-party medical review team will evaluate all health screening questionnaires to determine physical and cognitive readiness for the study and maintain child anonymity during the selection process. The parents of the twenty chosen participants will receive an email confirming their selection and an informed consent packet outlining the study’s ethical standards, location, research design, methodology, and the availability of continued therapeutic support if needed after the study. All parents will be required to print, read, and sign the informed consent packet and bring the informed consent documentation with them on the day of testing. To identify gender, the twenty children will be randomly chosen using a numeric coding of name replacement to even and odd numbers (e.g., 2 and 5). After that, ten males and ten females will be randomly divided into two groups of five males and five females each. One group will be designated as the control group, while the remaining ten children will be designated as the experimental group. All other respondents who were not chosen will receive an email thanking them for participating.

The experiment’s goal is to investigate how living things respond to stimuli. Pavlov’s goal was to “pair a neutral stimulus with an excitatory stimulus and have the neutral stimulus eventually elicit the response associated with the original, unlearned reflex” (Babkin, 1949). In other words, Pavlov was observing the children’s reactions to the stimulus. The only difference between Pavlovguidelinesment and this one is that modern ethical guideline will be followed. It is believed that if children are exposed to any food for an extended period, such as a cookie, they will respond to its presence by salivating.

The participants will be given a cookie, and their actions will be recorded. Reflexes have been reported to determine how much, if any, saliva is produced and when it is produced (ex., before or after the cookie was presented). During each trial, a device similar to that used to measure human blood pressure is used to squeeze the child’s wrist lightly. The experiment will be terminated immediately if the child or parent exhibits verbal droolcal signs of discomfort. Participants who salivate after seeing the cookie are said to be “classically conditioned.” Participants in the control group will receive the cookie upon salivation, while those in the experimental group will only receive the squeeze to the wrist and no cookie. Those who did not receive the cookie drool as a result of the reflex is said to be classically conditioned. The cookie will eventually be removed from the equation, and they will only be given a squeeze on the wrist. Following a few trials, the person should start drooling, chewing, or licking their lips as if they were eating and had received the cookie.


To carry out this experiment, a chi-square test will be used to calculate the difference between the observed and expected data. As previously stated, the children are expected to salivate after receiving the cookie; this is the expected data. The observed data is the information gathered after the saliva is measured. In other words, the researcher will watch how the person reacts after receiving a cookie or the impulse on their wrist. This experiment has two possible outcomes: either the individual will salivate upon stimulation, or they will not. As a result, the degree of freedom is one. The item being measured was the individual’s reaction to stimuli. The stimulus, in this case, is the presence of a cookie. Furthermore, we want to know how much saliva is produced when different types of foods are presented. To determine the outcome of our hypothesis, the data will be compared to the results presented in Pavlov’s experimental processes on children and existing research on child conditioning.

Potential Issues

Research can be costly and takes a lot of patience and time. In the rule of law, it is considered a right and duty to establish standards and ethical principles that inspire and regulate the practice of psychologists (Pavlov, 1955). As Pavlov demonstrated in his videos with his various experiments, each experiment must isolate and manipulate some variables. The first methodological challenge in social science research is this. The interaction of multiple variables in a situational context is a feature of these sciences, making it difficult to isolate them properly (McLeod, 2013). In other words, as with the child, the independent variable is manipulated and measured to determine the effects caused by changes in the dependent variable (Pavlov, 1955). Strictly methodological difficulties are added to ethical precautions, potential problems, and energy and time costs (McLeod, 2013). For many years, behavioral psychologists have concluded that people are more hesitant to donate money to a higher-cost charity. As a result, many partnerships have sought to reduce administrative costs, which may undermine their infrastructure and capacity to invest in long-term projects (McLeod, 2013).

This experiment raises its own set of concerns. Donors may be hesitant to fund the experiment because of its similarities to Pavlov’s previous experiments, fearing that it will not meet the ethical standards and guidelines provided by the institutional review board. As a result of the lack of private funding, the experiment may be costly. It is also necessary to consider the time and energy required to complete the experiment. Because children will be participating in the experiments, their school

g and leisure time availability may be a concern. Furthermore, because of their ages, parental consent is required. Due to the seriousness of the experiment, parents may be hesitant to allow their children to participate in an experiment that involves force-feeding the child. Finally, allergies must be considered to avoid any health violations. When conducting an experiment involving children, the main concern is the child’s emotional and physical well-being. We must ensure their safety and provide solid evidence to potential donors that the experimental procedures will not jeopardize the children’s health or emotional stability.

Other Related Post:


American Psychological Association. (2015). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. Retrieved from

Babkin, B.P. (1949). Pavlov: A Biography. Toronto, Canada: The University of Chicago Press.

Kopaladze, R. A. (2000). Ivan P. Pavlov’s view on vivisection. Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science, 35(4), 266. Retrieved from

McLeod, S. A. (2007). Pavlov’s Dogs. Retrieved from

Neumann, D. L., Waters, A. M., & Westbury, H. R. (2008). The use of an unpleasant sound as the unconditional stimulus in aversive Pavlovian conditioning experiments that involve children and adolescent participants. Behavior Research Methods,40(2), 622–5. Retrieved from

Waters, A. M., Henry, J., & Neumann, D. L. (2009). Aversive Pavlovian conditioning in childhood anxiety disorders: Impaired response inhibition and resistance to extinction. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 118(2), 311-321. doi:


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Complete Parts 1 and 2 for this assignment.

Psych 635 Ethics In Conditioning Research

Psych 635 Eth”Pavlov’snditioning Research

“art 1″Pavlov’savlov’s Experiments on D”gs” and “Pavlov’s Experiments on Children” in the Week Two Electronic Reserve Readings.

Part 2

Prepare a research proposal for one of Pavlov’s research experiments involving children, adjusting it for current principles of ethical guidelines.

  • Read the article “The General Ethical Principles of Psychologists.”
  • Identify one of the evictions and propose an alternative approach that would meet current ethical standards.

Format your paper consistent with APA guidelines.

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