Posted in Psych Bites, Psychology

Psych Bites: Tuskegee Syphilis Study

In 1895, Booker T. Washington outlined his dream for economic development for the ethnic minority community. Over the subsequent years, this led to funding into the development of schools, factories, businesses and agriculture. Around the late 1920’s, there was a severe problem with Syphilis. In 1929, the disease was treated with mercury and bismuth and only had a cure rate of 30%.

This led to the funding of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study bu the US Public Health Service. The purpose of this study was to record the progression of syphilis in the hopes of justifying treatment programmes for African-Americans. The official name of the study was “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male”.

At the beginning of the study in 1932, 600 black men were involved; 399 of these already had syphilis and 201 did not. Participants were told that they would be treated for “bad blood”, a local term used to describe several ailments such as syphilis, anaemia and fatigue.

Participants did not actually receive proper treatment for their condition. In exchange for taking part in the study, the men received free medical exams, free meals and burial insurance. The study was originally supposed to last 6 months but went on for 40 years.

In 1936, the study published a major paper on the health effects of untreated Syphilis. The study was criticised as it was not known if the men were being treated, this led to the involvement of local physicians who were told by the researchers not to treat men. Decision was made to follow the men until death.

In 1945, penicillin was found to be a successful treatment for syphilis. However, the participants of this study were left untreated despite “Rapid Treatment Centers” being established for the treatment of syphilis. It wasn’t until 1972 that the study ended.

Following the termination of the experiment, the surviving participants were given treatment for the disease. By the end of this study 28 people had died from the disease, 100 had died from related diseases and 40 spouses and 19 children had also been infected as a result of this research.

In 1974, a $10 million settlement was reached as well as lifetime medical benefits and burial services to all living participants. The Tuskegee Health Benefit Program was established to provide these services. A year later wives, widows and offspring were added to the programme.

In 1997, President Clinton issued a public apology on behalf of the nation. The final participant of the research passed away in 2004.

This research is an important marker in ethical procedures as it is a perfect illustration of why we need to have ethical principles for research in order to stop things like this occurring. As it is such an important piece of research I wanted to have this included in my psych bites feature on my blog, what are your thoughts on this?

Posted in Psych Bites, Psychology

Psych Bites: Autistic Spectrum Disorder

Recently I had an amazing opportunity to do a weeks work placement in a disability school where my sister used to attend. I was put in the pathways department and more specifically I was put in a seperate little bungalow of 9 students, 2 teachers and 3 teaching assistants where 8 of the students were diagnosed on the scale of Autistic Spectrum Disorder. I really enjoyed my placement and was given a mass amount of folders and information by one of the teachers, I was shocked by exactly how different the children were to what I was expecting, so I thought that this would be a good topic for psych bites, to inform you all of what I have learnt on the placement and also how amazing people with this disorder really are.
If you have read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon or watched Rain Man you probably have an idea in your head as to what exactly someone with Autism is like, you may believe that most people with Autism have insane mathematical ability, are unable to make eye contact and do not like to be touched. I’m going to go through these symptoms and whether or not there is any truth to them as well as telling you an important part of Autism which is often ignored.
Autistic Spectrum Disorder is a Developmental disorder that typically occurs during early childhood. There are no cures for this disorder, there are some management tactics as well as some theories that parents may turn to as they believe they might help, For example there has been some articles/books that have suggested diet may be a cause of Autism and some parents may stop their children from having dairy or gluten. Whilst there is no scientific proof of this it can be a comfort to some parents.
One of the most common misconceptions about people with Autism is that they all have some amazing ability that goes way beyond what an average person is able to do. This can sometimes be the case, but these people are called Savants. An example of this is Stephen Wiltshire (Click here for a Documentary on him and his life) who can draw incredibly detailed drawings from memory, for instance he was taken in a helicopter ride over New York City and was able to draw this from memory.

This is not however, the case for every child who is on the Autistic Spectrum. There can be people who are on this spectrum that aren’t as effected in day to day life as with some other people. There are some people who may just find social situations uncomfortable and be unable to process emotion or understand it in ways others can, but may not be as severe as some other people on the Autistic Spectrum.

People with Autism often struggle with communication, the children I met some were using sign language rather than speaking, there was also one child who would whisper when they spoke and some which just didn’t communicate at all. On the other end though, there were children which were able to talk and communicate but it was clearly difficult for them, they would not make eye contact or in the case of one child, would constantly ask questions and may even repeat the question even if you’ve already answered, this was a form of defense mechanism as the anxiety of being spoken to and not wanting to be asked questions made the child constantly ask questions themselves.

A huge part of Autistic Spectrum Disorder is the senses. There are children which may have senses

which are hypersensitive (over sensitive) or hyposensitive (under sensitive) an example is this is having hypersensitive hearing which may mean loud noises are painful. Some children with this disorder need to stimulate their senses often, whilst I was on my placement the teacher had what was called “sensory breaks” where the children were able to stimulate their senses, for example one child would sort of make themselves slip off of a frame (without hurting themselves) because they liked the feeling of slipping and slippery surfaces. In fact you may be shocked to hear that there are some people with the disorder that may feel pain when getting their hair cut!

Of course there is also the feature of being unable to recognise facial expressions and body language which also makes it difficult to communicate, think about it, how often do you look at someones face or body for clues about what they’re really trying to say? How often does it happen that someone says nothing at all but you can tell if they are angry or annoyed at you? Children with Autistic Spectrum disorder find this difficult.

Though it is incredibly hard to categorise and write down that these are the symptoms for Autistic Spectrum Disorder because each person is different with the disorder just like everyone is different. The point is, I think that we should try and understand people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder and that more places should accommodate them.

I wrote this for Autism awareness day but am slightly late with finishing it, apologies. But I do think this is an important issue and that more people should be aware of this disorder and what it involves, I hope my post helped you understand a little better.

Posted in Psych Bites, Psychology

Psych Bites: Why do we Obey Authority?

I know, I know, another feature, I start these oh so often and I swear I do intend to actually keep them! I want to try and get all of my ideas out of there so that anyone who visits my blog knows exactly what I’m about. 

This brand new section I have decided to call “Psych Bites”, I know this may sound somewhat geeky, and maybe even a little bit childish, but I like the name so hush! 

You may be wondering what this segment is going to be about. Well my friends this is going to be all things Psychology! For those of you that don’t know I currently study Psychology at university and have just entered my second year, I have a big passion for this subject and know that there can be a lot of interesting parts to it that a lot of people may not know about! I have a LOT of books on this topic, obviously, so it still fits in with the bookish theme I have going on this blog.

I’m going to be writing about case studies, whacky things that were done in the past (and obviously disproved), theories into different topics such as personality and much more!


For the first one I decided that I would start with an experiment that I learnt about in my A level studies and found very interesting. If you have studied Psychology in any shape or form you may have heard of this experiment.

This experiment was looking at obedience to authority. Have you ever wondered why people followed Hitler? Or why the Nazi’s in the concentration camps would follow orders to kill people? This is exactly what Stanley Milgram, an American Social Psychologist at Yale University in the 1960’s, wondered too. He decided to conduct an experiment to see if he could get members of the public to willingly cause harm to another human being, within the presence of authority.

I know what you’re thinking; wait what?! But bare with me, he just made the participants THINK they were hurting someone, when obviously they weren’t.

Milgram put out an advert in a newspaper advertising an experiment on memory and participants would receive a sum of $4.00 for taking part. Three people were involved in the experiment; the experimenter, the participant and a volunteer who pretended to also be a participant to the experiment also known as a “stooge”. Both the participant and the stooge would draw out from a hat to determine whether they were the “teacher” or the “learner” however, both pieces of paper said “teacher” and the stooge would claim to have chosen “learner” each time.

The idea was that the participant would be teaching the “learner” pairs of words, and every time they got a pair wrong they would administer an electric shock to learner, going up in 15 volts each time there was an incorrect answer, the maximum voltage being 450 volts which would be a potentially deadly voltage. To make the participant believe that this was in fact real, the experimenter administered a small shock to the participant.

As the shocks became higher the learner would be heard to complain of pain or beg to be released. At the 300 volt level the learner would be heard to bang on the wall and demand to be released, beyond this point the learner would be completely silent and not even answer anymore questions, this was suggestive that the “learner” had passed out, or even worse. At this point the experimenter would tell the teacher to treat the silence as incorrect answers and to continue to administer shocks.

If the teachers showed any sign of wanting to stop, or see if the “learner” was alright, then the experimenter would issue what is known as “prods and prompts” and would say one of four phrases such as “It is absolutely essential that you continue”.

In the original experiment, 40 men were tested, although Milgram did later repeat the experiment with women and had the same results. The results found that 65% of the participants went all the way to the end of the volts, that administering a 450 volt shock to another human, willingly. 100% of the participants went up to 300 volts. Afterwards, participants were told about how the experiment wasn’t real

Obviously this experiment has a LOT of ethical issues. For starters, the participants thought that they were harming another human being, in some cases this caused visible stress such as shaking and sweating, even though the participants continued to obey. Furthermore, the participants right to withdraw from the experiment was taken away by the “prods and prompts”. There are many more issues with this experiment and would never be able to be repeated today. However, it showed how everyone may have the possibility to do potentially evil things, and that the presence of an authority figure (in this case the experimenter) can turn someone into a completely different person.

What do you think? Do you think everyone has the potential to harm another human in the right circumstances?