10 Psychological Experiments That Went Horribly Wrong

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10 Psychological Experiments That Went Horribly Wrong

Science has given us numerous breakthroughs over the years, providing us with a better understanding of ourselves and our surroundings. While many psychological experiments have been successful and ethical, others have ended overstepping ethical boundaries and up backfiring horribly. These experiments have ruined human and animal lives and many times put the profession on shame. Here are 10 Psychological Experiments That Went Horribly Wrong.

10 Psychological Experiments That Went Horribly Wrong

10. Stanford Prison Experiment:

In the 1971 experiment on imprisonment, social psychologist Philip Zimbardo wanted to interrogate the ways in which people conform to social roles. He listed a group of male college students to take part in a two-week-long experiment in which they would live as 35 students were selected to play prisoners and 35 students were enlisted to play guards in a mock prison in a basement at Stanford University. Their roles were assigned without their knowledge. The “prisoners” were unexpectedly outside their own homes. The disturbing result showed ordinary college students turned into brutal guards or frightened prisoners. After five days the experiment came to an end and the lead researcher stated, it became clear “we had created an overwhelmingly powerful situation.”

9. The Monster Study:

In 1938, Mary Tudor, a researcher of the University of Iowa, conducted speech experiments on 22 orphan children in order to learn if stuttering is a brain disorder or a learned response. The children were equally separated into two groups, one with a speech therapist who praised their progress and fluency of speech and the other group with a speech therapist who openly punished the children for the smallest mistake. Non-stutterers were told they actually did stutter and some of those children developed speech problems following the experiment. The study went on for six months and one kid even ran away from the orphanage.

8. CIA Mind Control Experiments:

The CIA performed many unethical, illegal experiments into mind control and psychology during the 50s and 60s, the cold war, under the banner of project MK-ULTRA and a lot of them ended horribly for the subjects. The American agency experimented with torture in the form of Chinese brainwashing tactics, they gave subjects LSD, heroin, and mescaline without knowledge, they also conducted electric shock on people. The mental instability of Theodore Kaczynski aka the Unabomber has been reported of being a result of one of CIA’s disturbing experiments. Also, the suicide of Frank Olson which is considered to be a murder. The “Artichoke” project, Project QKHILLTOP and the Operation Midnight Climax are all reportedly, experiments conducted by the CIA.

7. David Reimer:

In 1966, David Reimer’s life was changed drastically when at the age of 8 months old his circumcision was botched and he lost his penis to burns. Reimer’s parents took him to John Money, a professor of medical psychology and paediatrics who advocated the theory of “gender neutrality”. John Money suggested that Reimer should be given a sex change, secretly wanting to use David as part of an experiment to prove his views that gender identity was not inborn but rather established by nature and upbringing. David was renamed Brenda but lived as a male from the age of 14 when he was told the truth. He had tried to have treatment to undo the sex reassignment but fell into extreme depression, and committed suicide at the age of 38.

6. Milgram Obedience Experiment:

The horrors of World War II and the Holocaust led to many psychological studies including one done by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram in 1963. Milgram was trying to understand the psychology of Nazi soldiers who committed inhumanity and participated in genocide. People were split into the roles of “experimenter” (or authority figure), “teacher” and “learner” (actually an actor). The teachers were ordered to ask questions to the learners who were attached to an electric-shock generator which will shock him in increasing measure when he answered incorrectly. Though the shocks were fake, the participants didn’t know this, still, people overwhelmingly obeyed the commands of the experimenter, even when the man screamed in agony and begged for mercy.

5. UCLA Schizophrenia Medication Experiment:

The UCLA Schizophrenia Medication Experiment was started in 1983 at the University of California. The study was meant to give information that would allow doctors to better treat schizophrenia and in order to do so, the 50 patients suffering from schizophrenia were told to quit their medication. The experiment messed up the lives of many of the test subjects, most of them relapsed into episodes of mental illness. One participant, Tony LaMadrid lost his life and another patient threatened to kill his parents.

4. Harlow’s Pit of Despair:

In the 1950s, psychologist Harry Harlow, in order to prove that children need their mothers’ love, placed baby rhesus monkeys into isolation for a year where they suffered various tortures. Some monkeys developed severe psychosis and depression while some went insane and even starved themselves to death in two cases. His experiments were eventually shut down.

3. The Third Wave:

The Third Wave was carried out in 1967 in order to explore the ways in which even democratic societies can become infiltrated by the appeal of fascism. The experimenter created a practice where a class of high school students were considered members of a prestigious position. Though the students showed increased motivation to learn, they became eager to get on board with evil practices, such as banning and blacklisting non-members from the class. The experiment was ceased after four days when it started to get out of hand.

2. Homosexual Aversion Therapy:

In the 1960s, homosexuality was described as a mental illness and many individuals used to seek medication or any other kind of cure to stop their sexual attraction to members of the same sex. One of those “cure” was the aversion therapy where homosexual images were paired with such things as electric shocks and injections. These experiments resulted in vomiting, psychologically damage and even death.

1. Electroshock therapy on ‘schizophrenic’ children:

In the 1940s and 50s a child psychiatrist, Loretta Bender earned quite a reputation after coming through administering electroshock therapy. The therapy caused severe seizures to over 500 supposedly schizophrenic children. Some of these children were under the age of 3, who experienced worsening mental state, memory loss, and self-harm and even suicide attempts.


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