Ethical Issues of Aversive Techniques: A Response to Thompson, Gardner, and Baumeister

  • John J. McGee
Part of the Disorders of Human Learning, Behavior, and Communication book series (HUMAN LEARNING)


As the issue of the use of punishment as a treatment alternative emerges across the United States, several arguments have developed in defense of its application. In this response, I wish to question these arguments in a critical manner. Thompson, Gardner, and Baumeister (Chapter 19) encapsulated their reasons for supporting the use of aversive techniques. Their arguments center on the following: (1) the general contribution of the principles of applied behavioral analysis to the systematic teaching of persons with severe mental retardation with no mention made of punishment; (2) a harkening back to the crude types of psychiatric interventions used prior to the 1960s, such as hydrotherapy, prefrontal lobotomies, lobectomies, and the use of chemical restraint; (3) scapegoating those who use the principles of applied behavioral analysis incorrectly; (4) scapegoating the “system” for failing to develop adequate safeguards against the indiscriminate or undisciplined use of punishment procedures; and (5) advocating for the use of punishment as a research challenge, stating that more research has to be undertaken to validate the durability and effectiveness of punishment, especially in the area of self-injurious behavior. A constant refrain woven throughout all these arguments is the supposition that those who are daring enough to engage in the use of punishment are brave scientists performing the equivalent of behavioral surgery.


Cerebral Palsy Personality Disorder Water Mist Severe Mental Retardation Adjustment Disorder 
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© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1988

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  • John J. McGee

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