Posted by: Rachel Baker | May 8, 2015

“Do you like puppies?” and other social experiments

“Just because you see someone with a puppy doesn’t mean you go home with them.”


“Because you don’t know him.”

Seems like a fairly harmless way to make the point, right? The “researcher” asked the parents’ permission, had everything filmed in public, and even followed up afterwards to help bring awareness to parents and teach children.

Where should society draw the line between what seem like “heartwarming” and helpful “social experiments” and what sometimes look like unethical treatment of children? For us, as Institutional Review Board (IRB) certified researchers, we understand the need to keep research subjects safe. According to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), “The purpose of IRB review is to assure, both in advance and by periodic review, that appropriate steps are taken to protect the rights and welfare of humans participating as subjects in the research.”

That is great for participants if you are an academic researcher, but what about individuals who conduct “social experiments” without any oversight?

I started thinking about this a few weeks ago when I saw this video on YouTube:

Here’s another example, from the same “research” group, called “Child Abuse Between Races! (Social Experiment).”


Do these videos look okay to you?

Sure, the videos make a point, but those children had to endure some harsh psychological — and physical — hits. Is it ethical to put children through these kinds of “experiments” to prove points about child abuse, kidnapping/abduction, human trafficking, or other issues?

These are just two clips among many others, some of which are entitled “Lost Child Experiment,” “Kidnapping Children Experiment,” “Kid Smoking Experiment,” “Homeless Child Experiment,” and etc.

Where do we draw the line?

Do there need to be “review boards” or does there need to be a form of accountability for these types of “experiments”?

And if so – is it practical to actually hold people accountable?

I would love to hear what you think in the comments!


  1. Thanks for posting this Rachel. A few nights ago when I watched the puppy experiment, I cried almost the entire time. I forgot that it was about research, and thought that it was more of a dramatized PSA. I was emotional and what I was watching connected directly to my lizard brain and mommy instincts.

    I think that the audiences for all three of the videos are for the mass public and not for the halls within academia. As you state ‘ how far is far enough?’ I don’t know, but I would like to see an opportunity for positive research as well. Like a ‘congatious smile research’ or ‘paying it forward research.’

  2. This reminds me of a study happening in Seattle right now where people are volunteering to test out age enhancing drugs on their pets. It’s great for researchers, but what about the subjects who don’t have the ability to protest their involvement? Your article touches on a subject we should all take into consideration!

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