Why I Signed My Baby Up for a Psychological Experiment

I know what you’re thinking: how could anyone allow people to perform tests on their baby?  Our children are precious little human beings, not lab rats, right?  Well, I signed Bugaboo up for a psychological experiment at Northwestern University, and we had a great time.  Before you judge, read the following about our experience and why you should enlist your own babies in the cause of science.

Concerns About Experimentation

The first hurdle to getting Bugaboo signed up to participate in a psychological experiment was convincing my husband it was safe.  And what he was thinking is probably what you’re thinking.  So let’s address those concerns.

The first thing you think when you hear psychological experiment is probably a vision of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster.  There’s a dark lab in the basement of a forgotten university, and scientists labor there wearing white lab coats spattered with bright green goo.  Well let’s just clear this up first of all!  It’s a psychological experiment – the baby isn’t going to be operated on or given weird substances to drink.

But all joking aside, human experimentation has a bad rap, right?  Let’s go back to the dreaded Milgram experiment.  This was an experiment that occurred after WWII where testers would give electric shocks to an imaginary subject.  The shocks started out innocent enough, but the tester was asked to increase the strength of the shock until enough electricity was administered to cause significant pain or even death.  The Milgram experiment discovered, to everyone’s shock and horror, that the testers were willing, with a little prodding, to torture and even kill the subject.  Although the subject was just an actor and never harmed, the consequences of the Milgram experiment were mental and emotional shock to the testers.  Imagine finding out you have the capability to kill a man because he answered a question wrong?  How do you go about your day after that?

After the Milgram experiment, psychology cleaned up its act and created better rules and structures around its test subjects.

If you sign your baby up for a psychological experiment, you have a right to know exactly what is going to happen to her in the experiment.  You should be allowed to be with her and ask questions.  Although your experiment is going to be innocuous, you should still be able to pull the plug at any time.

Just for fun, though, here are an additional 30 disturbing human experiments.

Why I Wanted to Sign Up


In Psychology 101 we were encouraged to take part in the psychological experiments being run on campus.  I really enjoyed the few I participated in, even though they were incredibly easy.  I watched a video clip and took a survey in one.  In another, I was supposed to play a computer game for money.  The game was cancelled at the last minute, and I was handed $5 for my trouble.  Not bad!  When I got out of college, I went looking for psychological experiments to sign up for and found one where I watched a series of images on a computer screen.  The researchers watched my eyes while they showed me various pictures ranging from benign to gruesome.

I have a natural curiosity and interest in science.  I’m fascinated to know what researchers are doing these days.  What are they finding out?  What are the results?  And how to they go about getting those results?  If I can’t be a scientist myself, then I can help in the process and learn by doing.

We Are the End Users

The most important reason you should consider signing your baby up for a psychological experiment is that you are the end user.  How many articles have you read since your baby was born?  How many books?  Did you Google methods of teaching your baby to talk, read, or walk?  Infant development is a huge scientific field, and there are literally thousands of studies out at any given time about baby development.  Information changes, and we respond to that.  We are always looking for the best, newest knowledge on how to raise our little ones.  These experiments literally feed into that.

For example, I read about a study where babies as young as five months were tested to see if morality is innate or learned.  They watched movies of different shaped objects playing with each other.  The “mean” triangle took the circle’s toy.  After the test, the babies were offered a toy in the shape of a triangle or a circle.  A significant percentage chose the circle.  Babies were tested for math skills by putting two toys into a toybox.  When the baby looked inside, only one toy was there.  The babies were measured for how long they stared at the box, presumably trying to comprehend the missing toy.

Most recently and applicable to me, I read a study about how it’s better to read books with named characters to our babies.  If the characters in the book do not have names, we can name them.  It increases the baby’s attention.  This is a practical bit of advice I can use today, and it came about because of a psychological experiment.

Twin Studies

If you are the lucky mother of twins, you have a unique chance to help psychologists!  You may even be able to participate in a long term study.  Twin studies can be some of the most fruitful of all the psychological experiments out there, and your twins can be a part of it.

The Process

Finding a Study

To find an experiment, I looked into local universities.  Three in my area (Northwestern University, The University of Chicago, and Northern Illinois University) advertised a need for babies for testing.  Each one made similar offers: babies will be offered a small payment (like $10) or a toy, parking is free, and childcare is available for older children.

I input Bugaboo’s information into each website – her age and our contact information.  Then I just waited to be contacted.  Northwestern University reached out first (and often), and we scheduled an appointment.


When I arrived at the university, I went into a small downstairs office filled with comfortable couches and baby play toys.  I set Bugaboo down with a wooden toy and started to fill out the paperwork that was given to me.  I had to sign a release form, which asked if I was comfortable with Bugaboo’s images being used in any promotional or presentation material.  In addition, it outlined the risks of participating in the study – essentially that there were no risks.  I was offered the opportunity to leave.

I also filled out a quick questionnaire on Bugaboo’s current development – namely, which words she knew and could say.

The Study

I don’t know how much I can say about our specific experiment.  We were led into a small room with a video screen.  Bugaboo sat on my lap.  I was given some darkened sunglasses so that I couldn’t see what Bugaboo was watching or interact with her.  Then they played a movie for Bugaboo and measured some of her eye movements when watching the movie.  I was incredibly intrigued by the sounds of the video.  At the last minute I was having horrible doubts – what if they were showing Bugaboo something scary?  A second later, I heard her laugh.  She liked what she was watching!

Suddenly, it was all over.  I asked if I could watch the video myself, now that they had the results they needed from Bugaboo.  They did better than that – they emailed me a video showing a side by side of Bugaboo watching the movie and what the movie was showing!  I had the joy of explaining the experiment to my husband while we watched it on the couch later that night.

The Reward

The student running the experiment offered us the choice of a T-shirt and $10.  I took the money to offset the gas costs to get to the University and then thought better.  Bugaboo had done all the work!  It would go into her savings account.  They also provided her with an honorary Bachelor of Arts degree.  I was relieved to know we wouldn’t have to save for college after all!  (Ha ha).  We had been at the infant development building for all of 10 minutes.

You should really consider signing up your infant for a psychological experiment.  There’s no harm for your child, and the two of you can have a really fun and unique experience.  In addition, you’ll be helping not only science but other moms!


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