Long before the American Psychological Association came into existence, Psychologist R.D. Middlemist conducted a shocking study where in he hid a camera in a public restroom to study the behaviors of male subjects in relation to other male subjects while using the lavatory facilities. Such studies would not only be considered unethical by today's standards of practice, but unlawful in most, if not all, of the 50 United States as well as many foreign countries throughout the world. Thanks to Dr. Middlemist we now have the American Psychological Association and the many ethical standards that they have set forth for us to follow.
According to current APA standards, a psychological researcher is under obligation to adhere to several standards. The researcher is to be governed by an institutional review board (IRB), as well as providing this board with a risk/benefit analysis (Myers & Hansen, 2006). The researcher is obligated to consider the physical, psychological and social implications that any research study may have on a participant (Myers & Hansen, 2006). The researcher is under obligation to obtain a written consent form from all participants, and this consent form is to inform the participant of any risks of participation no matter how minimal these risks may seem (Myers & Hansen, 2006).
The study that Middlemist conducted in public restrooms clearly violated all of these ethical standards. The participants in the study were never revealed to each other or the public. There was probably a minimal risk, at the time, that a participant would be recognized by a camera man or researcher; as far as we know, that did not happen.
While the study did not harm the participants individually in any way, Middlemist's study violated society as a whole both psychologically and socially. Middlemist's study was the first act of social terrorism. By hiding in these restrooms and video taping these men, Middlemist introduced public paranoia to the platform of the world. Our society could no longer expect to find their personal privacy protected in a public place. What was even more disturbing was that, at the time, Middlemist was in a position of respect with a degree of authority; by betraying the integrity of his prestigious position, Middlemist lowered the standards expected of psychologists everywhere.
One could further argue that while the participants in the study were not physically violated themselves, Middlemist's study physically violated the public simply by the horrific way in which the research study invaded the participants' intimate space. In postmodern society this research study would be considered a form of physical harassment. Middlemist's study may have been designed to contribute behavioral research to society, however his greater contribution has been the provocation of ethical standards and a healthy fear of public restrooms.
Middlemist, R. D., Knowles, E. S., & Matter, C. F. (1976). Personal space invasions in the lavatory: Suggestive evidence for arousal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33(5), 541-546.
Myers, A., & Hansen, C. (2006). Experimental psychology (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.