Undoubtedly, children have been playing a significant role in scientific studies for a long time already. The extent to which they could be engaged in experiments has been altered numerous times, while the approach to this kind of participation has never been stable from an ethical perspective. Some people claim that children’s participation in experiments implying assessing their performance indicators is inevitably dangerous and may affect future life. Others believe that having access to seeing the reactions of young organisms to various stressors, as well as being able to explore their consciousness, is irreplaceable and highly vital to science.
Considering the article by Lew-Williams (2017) contains research, the empirical base of which was an experiment with children’s participation. The study aimed to understand the specificity of L2 (level of Spanish) learners’ difficulties processing cues to grammatical gender. In this regard, grammatical gender can be defined as a system of assigning nouns to different categories and requiring nearby words (such as articles, adjectives, and verbs) to be marked for agreement.
Participants in the three experiments were children enrolled in Spanish-English dual immersion programs in elementary schools in the United States. There were four participant groups in each experiment: 6-year-old and 10-year-old native Spanish-speaking children, an 6-year-old and 10-year-old non-native Spanish-speaking children. The first experiment aimed to assess whether L1 and L2 children can exploit Spanish articles (la and el) as cues to grammatical gender in real-time processing. Experiment 2 investigated the processing of Spanish articles that conveyed information about the biological gender of referents in the visual field and had the same algorithm. Experiment 3 used a similar design but examined listeners’ use of Spanish number-marked articles to anticipate whether a speaker would refer to pictures showing one of five objects.
The result of the three experiments was practically the same: only on different-gender trials and different-number trials was the helpful article in signaling which picture would be referred to. Moreover, the study has revealed almost no difference in the speed and quality of reaction in the groups of L1 and L2 in the first, second, and third experiments. Participants were tested using the LWL procedure, a child-friendly technique that yields online measurements of the time course of spoken language processing (Lew-Williams, 2017). In other words, the participants were asked to look at pictures as they listened to Spanish sentences, and special instruments measured their reactions to reveal the patterns of choosing articles in Spanish.
Regarding my attitude towards this research and its methods, I reckon this is normal as long as it does not harm the children’s mental and physical health. The experiments described in the study do not lead to any negative consequences for the participants, their social status, or their ability to communicate with others. The study was only based on measuring children’s reactions with different levels of Spanish to grammatical gender features. Thus, no ethical principles are violated, and the procedure is clear enough to consider it safe. In my opinion, experiments with children’s participation should be undertaken because people do not know how to access this kind of information differently. Thus, study results can be extremely helpful in medicine, psychology, education, and other spheres of people’s lives due to their uniqueness.
To conclude, this study is a perfect example of proper research involving children. The research topic did not imply any unethical aspects, as well as the procedures, for getting the needed data were clear and safe, and the psychological impact on the children was minimized. Such experiments, which meet the requirements of involving children, especially younger ones, in research activities, make it possible to encourage children to participate in various studies.
Lew-Williams, C. (2017). Specific referential contexts shape efficiency in second language processing: Three eye-tracking experiments with 6- and 10-year-old children in Spanish immersion schools. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 37, 128-147. doi:10.1017/S0267190517000101