Yale Autism Study Draws Criticism for Tormenting Toddlers

January 10, 2021

Research on Emotional Regulation Draws Ethic Concerns

A new study from Yale University titled, “Attend Less, Fear More: Elevated Distress to Social Threat in Toddlers with Autism Spectrum Disorder” sparked a firestorm of criticism from thousands of people on social media. The unusual research investigated how toddlers (42 with autism and 22 neurotypical) responded to potentially threatening stimuli. Before embarking on their study, the researchers received approval from Yale’s Institutional Review Board and received informed consent from the toddler’s parents. The study’s methodology involved exposing toddlers to fake spiders, mechanical dinosaurs, as well as masked strangers. According to the study’s authors, their research aimed to examine and measure distress in toddlers. It also set out to investigate the level of visual attention these toddlers paid to the stimulus and how they tried to regulate their emotions after being exposed to a stressor. The researcher’s ultimate goal was to better understand the differences of emotional responses between toddlers with autism and neurotypical toddlers. However, since the study’s release, thousands of people have objected to the research on Twitter. The outrage even resulted in a Twitter poll posted by an adult with autism that received 1400 votes. Ninety-four percent of the respondents felt the study’s design was unacceptable. Many in the poll, including Yale students, worried that toddlers may have been traumatized by the research. This study received such an extraordinary amount of public scrutiny that Yale Medical School made a statement explaining the intent of the research.  

Original Article 

Study Abstract

Yale School of Medicine Statement

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