Friday, September 30, 2005

Wendell Johnson's "Monster Study"

I just found this article on a University of Iowa stuttering experiment performed on orphans in the 1930s.

I've never heard of this before, but kids were apparently taken from the state orphanage and entered into this experiment where they were "badgered and harangued" by researchers hoping to make them stutter. Some became chronic stutterers and/or developed psychological issues.

The subjects didn't find out about it until they were seniors and are now trying to sue. The supreme court just ruled 4-3 against immunity for the state.

Four things immediately spring to mind:
1. How can the means possibly justify the ends when people’s lives are at state?
2. Parents are the only people who will keep their kids safe.
3. Who were the 3 Justices who felt the victims should not be allowed to sue?
4. And finally .. you guessed it ... What an a$$hole!

The Washington Post article is at : Court Keeps Stuttering Study Lawsuit Alive

But wait, this runs completely contrary to my personal experience with speech pathologists. I've never met one who has not come across as an extremely caring individual. And hey, lets face it, speech therapy is not exactly the kind of job you end up in by accident because you couldn't get a "real" job. Personally I feel a strong interest in helping stutters is necessary.

So after a my initial anger, I did a bit more reading and found that Wendell Johnson stuttered himself. Well now ... that doesn't make sense. I can't imagine anybody with this problem wishing it on somebody else.

Was this article biased because the writer did not do adequate research? Or was there an agenda to cause an emotional response to sell papers? Or was it true and the study a misguided effort? Or was he really an a$$****?

I found this article, which appears to indicate that it was a misguided effort and possibly a study which every participant regretted. The Stuttering Doctor's 'Monster Study'

At the end of the day, it's just a tragic shame!

Here are a couple other search links you start your own research from.

University of Iowa website search : Search

Google : Search

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.


At Friday, September 30, 2005 6:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


The "Monster Study".... There is a book written entitled "ABANDONED...Now Stutter My Orphan" written by Dr. Jerome Halvorson regarding this study. He is the foremost authority and most knowledgable person --outside of the graduate student, Mary Tudor -- regarding the study and its devastating effects on the orphans involved in Group 3 of the study. is his website. My name is Michael Feel free to contact me should you want to discuss the study...

At Saturday, October 01, 2005 6:33:00 AM, Blogger John MacIntyre said...

Thanks for the comment Micheal, I will definitely look into those websites.


At Sunday, October 02, 2005 7:45:00 AM, Blogger John MacIntyre said...

Here's another Article on it.

Court allows stutter study suits

At Friday, October 07, 2005 3:10:00 AM, Anonymous Geoffrey said...

What bothers me the most is that Johnson knew, from intimate personal experience, that stuttering could be a life-long and life-affecting problem. Also, he was convinced from the get-go that stuttering could be induced, so he had to foresee the potentially devastating consquences for some of his test subjects.

At Friday, October 07, 2005 6:04:00 AM, Blogger John MacIntyre said...

Yes, this is baffling to me as well. When I first saw the article, I just thought he was an overly ambitious doctor who didn’t care about the participants. Where self promotion was his only concern.

But when I did further research, and found him on the stuttering home page, I got the impression that he was a respected pioneer in the field. And when I found out he stuttered, well … like I said, I can’t imagine anybody who stutters doing this.

Perhaps he believed he could just snap his fingers and bring us all out of a hypnotic trance like some show hypnotist. Who knows.

Anyway, not only is it tragic that innocent kids were victimized, but also any good work Mr. Johnson may have done, will be overshadowed by this. And who knows how much guilt the graduate student Mary Tudor carried around with her for the rest of her life.

At Friday, March 31, 2006 12:06:00 PM, Anonymous Megan said...

John- The Monster Study is something that I am especially interested in. I am a Speech Pathology major at Marquette University and we have spent a lot of time discussing The Monster Study in my Fluency Disorders class. My heart goes out to the children that were affected by this study. I just had one comment regarding the "4 things that spring to mind". You said that parents are the only people who will keep their kids safe, but I believe the teachers and caretakers at the the orphanage had the childrens' best interests in mind. The saddest part is that all of the teachers believed that they wre helping the children. They were told that according to a "professional opinion" that these children were in fact stutterers or showed symptoms of becoming stutterers. They were told what to do in order to help with therapy and improve the children's speech. Aside from all of the deception that was involved in this experiment, the results that supported the Diagnosogenic Theory were thought to be true and were, in fact, the staple of therapy for many years. Dr.Silverman, a former professor at Marquette University and a renowned Speech Pathologist, spent his career supporting the Diagnosogenic Theory and reseraching The Monster Study. He used the results of the study to support his beliefs and helped bring to light the study itself (aside from the media). The Diagnosogenic Theory states that if a child is told that he/she is a stutterer, then the chances that they will develop a stutter will be increased. The Monster Study supported this theory because the children developed stutters. Now, The Diagnosogenic Theory was in recent years proven incorrect. Children may develop the self-esteem and characteristics of a stutter, but they don't in fact develop the stutter itself. Therefore, all of the conclusions made in the Monster Theory were found to be incorrect and accurate. Bottom line, it's real sad that all of the people involved in the study were put through hell just for some conclusions that were eventually found to be inaccurate.

Here's a link with great information about the study itself and the feelings and emotions of the children involved:

At Saturday, April 08, 2006 5:33:00 PM, Blogger John MacIntyre said...

"You said that parents are the only people who will keep their kids safe, but I believe the teachers and caretakers at the orphanage had the childrens' best interests in mind."

Hi Megan,

I hope I can phrase this correctly.

While the teachers & caretakers may have, and probably did, care deeply about the children’s, they were in no position to second guess what they were told. Even if they questioned what Mary Tudor said, I speculate, they would not want to create waves.

Don't forget it was 1939, with the economic instability of the great depression very much in their minds. I think people would be reluctant to openly question an "expert" sent from their employer.

But most parents, IMHO, would second guess it and immediately tell their kids "you're fine, there's nothing wrong with you".

I don't think kids with parents would be exposed to this type of thing based on the fact, they would stir up controversy, and/or possibly expose the experiment for what it was.

Having said that, I can only imagine the guilt Mary Tudor and Dr. Johnson carried around. It must have been a constant battle to rationalize the side effects of what they did.



At Friday, July 28, 2006 10:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you know any current news about the law suit?

At Friday, July 28, 2006 6:07:00 PM, Blogger John MacIntyre said...

No, I haven't seen anything lately.

But if anybody has any informatation, please let us know.

At Tuesday, January 30, 2007 10:39:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rumor has it going to court in 9/07...Should be interesting to see what becomes of it all.

At Thursday, July 26, 2007 9:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Megan -

Just cruisin' through info re: the Monster Study... I guess I disagree with you. Frank Silverman Knew what he was talking about. The orphans did stutter, and Frank knew this in a most intimate way. Review of some of the orphans own interviews since the news article indicate that at least some of them went through life as people who stutter.

It's interesting...Many of the ASHA "experts" claim to have the facts, yet these same "experts" have never spoken with the subjects or graduate student who completed the study under Johnson's direction....Perhaps the Graduate Student observations after the study was discontinued should be considered, Most of all, the real "experts" of the outcome -- you know, the orphans themselves -- should be considered. It might also prove insightful to consider what the original reporter of the study in the news revealed regarding the outcomes of the orphans speech.

It is not what is in the 253 page Monster Study Thesis that reveals they stuttered...It is what happened after Johnson had Tudor discontinue the Monster Study that confirms that at least some of the orphans stuttered.

Time will reveal the truth eventually regarding it all I guess...

I'd be interested in your definition of what stuttering is?

Anyways, good luck in your professional endeavors!

At Friday, September 21, 2007 4:23:00 PM, Anonymous Michael Retzinger said...


I was 1 of 3 expert witnesses retained by the lawfirm representing 5 of the 6 plaintiffs in the recently settled "Monster Study" trial.

Would your blog be interested in the findings of this case?

Michael Retzinger

At Saturday, September 22, 2007 2:48:00 AM, Blogger John said...

Hi Michael,

Thanks for the offer, but this blog is pretty much dead. Someday I'm going to clean it up, and officially shut it down it.

However, there are people who find this blog via searches on "monster study", so if you post your info, I'm sure people will find it interesting.



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