10 Psychological Experiments That Went HORRIBLY WRONG
Prisoners and guards
In 1971, social psychologist Philip Zimbardo set out to interrogate the ways in which people conform to social roles, using a group of male college students to take part in a two-week-long experiment in which they would live as prisoners and guards in a mock prison. However, having selected his test subjects, Zimbardo assigned them their roles without their knowledge, unexpectedly arresting the “prisoners” outside their own homes. The results were disturbing. Ordinary college students turned into viciously sadistic guards or spineless (and increasingly distraught) prisoners, becoming deeply enmeshed within the roles they were playing. After just six days, the distressing reality of this “prison” forced Zimbardo to prematurely end the experiment.
Wendell Johnson, of the University of Iowa, who was behind the study
In this study, conducted in 1939, 22 orphaned children, 10 with stutters, were separated equally into two groups: one with a speech therapist who conducted “positive” therapy by praising the children’s progress and fluency of speech; the other with a speech therapist who openly chastised the children for the slightest mistake. The results showed that the children who had received negative responses were badly affected in terms of their psychological health. Yet more bad news was to come as it was later revealed that some of the children who had previously been unaffected developed speech problems following the experiment. In 2007, six of the orphan children were awarded $925,000 in compensation for emotional damage that the six-month-study had left them with.
Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, also seen top
The CIA performed many unethical experiments into mind control and psychology under the banner of project MK-ULTRA during the 50s and 60s. Theodore Kaczynski, otherwise known as the Unabomber, is reported to have been a test subject in the CIA’s disturbing experiments, which may have contributed to his mental instability. In another case, the administration of LSD to US Army biological weapons expert Frank Olson is thought to have sparked a crisis of conscience, inspiring him to tell the world about his research. Instead, Olson is said to have committed suicide, jumping from a thirteenth-story hotel room window, although there is strong evidence that he was murdered. This doesn’t even touch on the long-term psychological damage other test subjects are likely to have suffered.
In 1962, Warren Thomas, the director of Lincoln Park Zoo in Oklahoma City, injected an elephant named Tusko with 3,000 times the typical human dose of LSD. It was an attempt to make his mark on the scientific community by determining whether the drug could induce “musth” — the aggressiveness and high hormone levels that male elephants experience periodically. The only contribution Thomas made was to create a public relations disaster as Tusko died almost immediately after collapsing and going into convulsions.