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Ethics in Research: Example of the Landis Facial Expression Study Essay

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Ethics, though sometimes overlooked, are an integral part in conducting proper research. Though the primary goal of the researcher may be to find answers that support his hypothesis—particularly, positive results that successfully can apply to the general population—maintaining ethical conditions is also just as important, if not more. Some of the most infamous studies that have occurred in the social sciences field throughout the years were ones that raised ethical concerns. One such study is known as the Landis Facial Expression Study that was conducted in 1924 by Carney Landis, who was a graduate student in psychology at the University of Minnesota at the time.
Initially, Landis’ experiment to discover whether all humans are prone to project the same facial expressions that coincide with such emotions as surprise, happiness, anger, and disgust after being exposed to different situations seemed pretty harmless. In order to test his experiment, Landis brought in some of his fellow graduate students into a laboratory and drew marks on their faces, so that their facial expressions could be made more visible when presented with different stimuli. At first, Landis’ subjects were presented with a variety of strange, but relatively mild tasks that they were asked to do that included smelling ammonia, watching pornography, and putting their hand into a bucket containing frogs. While completing the tasks, Landis would take pictures of the students to take note of their reactions. The controversy, though, existed in the last task that Landis’ had his subjects complete, which involved decapitating a live rat so that the facial expression for disgust could be recorded. Unsurprisingly, many resisted. However, after being told to do so many...


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...cular emotion. Assuming that the two-thirds felt as if they were forced to do something that they really did not want to do, their facial expression could have portrayed more than just disgust. In other words, the reason why there was not a universal facial expression for disgust could have been as a result of Landis’ coercion, which could have contributed to feelings of anger, sadness, etc.
Ultimately, I feel that the benefits in this study did not outweigh the ethical problems that existed in the study. The premise of Landis’ study was quite simple and practical and could have been carried out easily without any type of harm done. In fact any of the emotions that he was trying to study could have all been represented if he presented the subjects’ with more normal kinds of stimuli. Perhaps, in doing so, Landis could have found more universal facial expressions.



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