What if our advice actually triggers the behaviour we want to prevent?
One of my favourite places on the internet is our private Patreon Facebook group, where the people who support us financially hang out. For just $5 a month people can join our Patreon group, and in that group we support one another; talk about faith; talk about relationships; share new studies that have come out, and more.
So much of what I write about I bounce off the Patreon group first! Or someone starts a conversation there that gets me thinking in a new direction, and so they “birth” a lot of our posts and podcasts.
And we’ve been able to celebrate with a few Patreon members who got married, and commiserate with others.
Last night, Jonathan King, one of our Patreons, left a really interesting story up on the group, and I asked if I could share it. He said yes–and I think you’ll enjoy it too.
When a study goes wrong
In 1939 in Davenport, Iowa, psychologist Wendell Johnson and graduate student Mary Tudor conducted an experiment on 22 orphan children to learn more about the causes of stuttering.
Tudor’s job was to tell the children who stuttered, “You will outgrow your stuttering and eventually be able to speak fine, so don’t worry about what other people think.” But to the children who didn’t stutter, she said, “You’re showing early symptoms of becoming a stutterer, so work as hard as you can to stop yourself from stuttering. Don’t even speak unless you know you can do it without stuttering.”
The results were immediate and disastrous.
Students who had never stuttered before suddenly began stuttering, or they became so afraid to stutter that they refused to talk. Their self esteem, mental states, relationships, and schoolwork deteriorated, and some even developed physical tics like snapping their fingers to keep themselves from stuttering.
Tudor felt so bad for her part in the study that afterwards, she became heavily involved in the aftercare provided to the children to help them recover from the harm done to them. The study was never officially published, but it eventually led to a lawsuit, a sizeable settlement, and a public apology from the University of Iowa.
It became known as the Monster Study, and the most important thing we learned from it was never to do it again.
Except when Fred Stoeker and Stephen Arterburn led a whole generation of Christians to tell their young sons, “You are showing early signs of struggling with lust. You need to use all your willpower and work hard to fight that lust. Don’t even look at a woman unless you can do it without lusting.”
And we’re seeing the fallout of that behavioral conditioning today, when men conflate noticing with lusting, when they believe their behavior is part of their biology, or when it develops into an addiction.
Believing that they are lustful by nature, as part of their identity as men, has had disastrous results on teen boys’ self esteem, mental states, and relationships, to say nothing of every woman who has ever been objectified and harmed by one of these boys or men.
And there has been no restitution or apology of any kind from those responsible for evangelicalism’s own Monster Study.
I thought that last line was so key: there has been no apology or restitution of any kind. No matter how much research shows that telling teen boys that being lustful is part of being male hurts men, they keep doing it and they double down.
You may also enjoy:
- The problems with Every Young Man’s Battle (with download)
- Does higher sex drive lead to rape? How the idea of boys’ lustful nature has excused date rape
- The double standard of what is asked of teen boys and teen girls
- The problems with Every Man’s Battle (with download)
And, of course, our book She Deserves Better that refutes so much of this teaching!
I thought that comparison with the Monster Study was so interesting!
And, again, I’m so grateful to Jonathan for bringing it to my attention (and to our patreon group for having a way to do that).
I’m wondering when we will hit a breaking point. When will people realize that too much harm has been done to keep spreading these messages? I hope it’s soon, but in the meantime, keep speaking up! And let’s hold Steve Arterburn and Fred Stoeker, and those who have promoted the book, accountable.
Who has endorsed the Every Man’s Battle books?
We have a crisis in the “Evangelical industrial complex” where people lend their names to books and their credibility helps sell those books–even harmful books. And often we aren’t discerning. This will only stop when people are challenged about their endorsements.
Endorsers of Every Man’s Battle
- Max Lucado
- Les and Leslie Parrott
- Josh McDowell
- John Maxwell
- Jack Hayford
- Gary Rosberg
If you know any of these people, why not write them a note and ask if they still stand behind the book? And ask if they will rescind their endorsement, given the research coming out about how harmful this message is?
What do you think? Have we done our own “Monster Study”? How do we fix it? Let’s talk in the comments!