Top 10 Immoral And Unethical Psychological Experiments

Even though psychology is a rather young science compared to its counterparts, its contribution to understanding human nature and the mind in relationship with the world cannot be contested. Most of experiments conducted by various psychologists over the years have provided useful insights regarding our motivation, thinking process and the roots of our behaviors.

In a way, the outcomes of such results have led many people to accept man as he is, in spite of the fact that some truths are hard to swallow. However, not all experiments and testing prove to be an illuminating or useful achievement and some of them have actually spiraled out of control. Let’s elaborate further.


1. The Milgram experiment

Following WWII, psychologist Stanley Milgram decided to figure out what determined the entire German nation to take part in the atrocities of the Genocide. The experiment was rather simplistic, as members of an audience were asked to query the man (hired actor) sitting in a chair connected to an electric-shock generator. Each time the man tied in the chair answered incorrectly, he would get electrocuted by the person in charge of the query. The results revealed that deep down inside every person is evil, because the subjects continued to electrocute their victim in spite of him pretending to be in agonizing pain.


2. Homosexual aversion therapy

This experiment took place in a period when homosexuality was considered a mental disorder and everyone was looking for a proficient treatment. Among the most controversial approaches was the aversion therapy, where the images of homosexuals were paired with painful stimuli that induced vomiting. Instead of curing the so-called mental condition, the only thing the therapy managed to achieve was to cause irreparable psychological damages to the subjects.


3. The David Reimer case

The experiment is by far the most unethical one in the field of psychology. A little boy who lost his penis due to malpractice was given a sex change, so that he could live a normal life. The psychologists who were supervising David Reimer provided him with hormonal supplement treatments and ensured he was surrounded by girlish stimuli. However, when David acted exactly as a stereotypical boy his age, his parents were forced to tell him the truth. Although he decided to undergo a reverse sex operation, he committed suicide in his mid adulthood.


4. Harlow’s “Pit Of Despair”

In all honesty, the motivation behind this failed experiment is not fully understood yet. Due to his obsession of explaining the concept behind love, David Harlow devised an empty chamber with no stimulus whatsoever. There he would place several non-human subjects (monkeys) in order to observe and try to understand the effects of total isolation better. The results were catastrophic to say the least, as a great percent of his subjects went insane, while a few monkeys refused food in an attempt to starve themselves to death.


5. The Monster study

The only way to describe this experiment is pure sadism: 22 orphans were separated into two groups, one of which would receive solely positive reinforcements for their school progress, while the other was constantly being criticized, even for the slightest mistake. The outcomes were devastating for both groups, as members from the positively reinforced group developed speech problems later on in life, while the other experienced severe psychological issues.


6. LSD and the US ultra-soldiers

During the Cold War, the CIA came up with what they thought was a brilliant way to defeat the Russia once and for all: injecting soldiers of the US army with LSD. However, the experiments turned out to be a complete disaster, as the main subject developed mental instability. It is said that the project leader also experienced psychological problems and that is the reason why he committed suicide. Nonetheless, conspiracy theorists claim that all evidence indicate the project’s administrator was murdered because of his decision to share this information with the world.


7. The incident at Lincoln Park Zoo

In an effort to impress the scientific community, the director of the Lincoln Park Zoo (Oklahoma City) decided to inject a male elephant with a dose of LSD. His aim was to prove that the drug can induce the belligerent behavior specific to males of this species. It seems that the 3,000 times higher than normal dose was a bit too much for the elephant that collapsed immediately, suffered from convulsions and died soon after.


8. Stanford prison experiment

As a means of testing just how well people tend to conform to social norms, Philip Zimbardo devised an interesting two weeks experiment: he created a mock prison, where several male students were to live as prisoners and guardians. What was interesting about this study is that he did not tell the students their roles, but rather “arrested” the prisoners outside their homes and called the guardians to work. The results were beyond anyone’s expectations, as educated college students took their roles seriously and became brutal guardians and defenseless prisoners.


9. The Third Wave disaster

Apparently not all psychologists were fully convinced about the complete failure of the Milgram experiment, as a study on an similar theme called The Third Wave was to take place only four years after. The idea behind the research was to prove that fascist beliefs can infiltrate very easily even in the most democratic society systems. The experiment consisted of making a class of high school students believe they are part of a prestigious order. While it is true that their motivation and learning abilities improved, the side effect comprised of activating their aggressive and malevolent behaviors at the same time. Due to the fact that the students’ behavior was out of control, the experiment had to be ceased after four days.


10. The Tony LaMadrid case

This is perhaps the most illustrative example of why the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The experiment was initial conceptualized as a means of helping psychiatrists better understand the intricate nature of schizophrenia. In short, several patients with schizophrenia volunteered for a study that specifically asked them to give up their medication. However, as it turns out, schizophrenia is more of a neurological disorder rather than a mental problem and the lack of medication for schizophrenics has devastating effects. The most famous patient was Tony LaMadrid, who threw himself off a building after six years after the initiation of the project.


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