Ethical Issues in Three Human Research Studies

Three of the most controversial studies where ethical problems occurred are The Tuskegee Study, Milgram Experiment, and Stanford Prison Study. The Tuskegee Study began in 1932 as a collaboration between the then U.S. Public Health Service and the Tuskegee Institute to investigate untreated syphilis in African-American men (“The Tuskegee Timeline,” 2020). The aim of this study was to document the natural history of the disease to establish treatment programs for African-Americans. Subsequently, The Milgram experiment was a learning and memory research that was conducted by Dr. Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University, in 1963 (“ABC News Primetime Milgram,” 2009).

The experiment’s aim was to test whether individuals would blindly follow the orders of an authority figure. Third, Stanford Prison Study began in 1971 at a mock prison created at Stanford University under the leadership of Dr. Phillip Zimbardo, a social psychologist (“The Stanford Prison Experiment,” 2011). The purpose of this experiment was the test the power of the environment to change and transform normal people, especially under harsh conditions like in prison.

The ethics applied in the three studies were monetary and non-monetary rewards for taking part in the experiments. For example, the Tuskegee Study’s participants were given free meals, burial insurance, and free clinical exams. For the Milgram and Stanford Prison experiments, participants received $15 per day. These ethics are wrong because they impair the participants’ ability to make rational decisions.

In addition, they are not given all material information concerning the benefits and risks associated with participating in the research. As a result, the selected individuals end up unknowingly engaging in studies that may be harmful to their health and wellbeing. The three studies resulted in most participants developing health issues due to inhumane procedures used in the experiments, including wrong medication, electrocution, and torture.

Personally, I would have made the three experiments appear more ethical in two major ways. First, I would have disclosed all factual information about the research, including its purpose and potential consequences. Second, I would have informed the target population that their participation is voluntary. In that way, the participant’s involvement in the studies would have been based on their informed consent and not because of financial or non-financial incentives.


ABC News Primetime Milgram. (2009). EightYellowFlowers. Web.

The Stanford Prison Experiment. (2011). HeroicImaginationTV. Web.

The Tuskegee Timeline. (2020). CDC. Web.

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