Creepy science experiments come in all shapes and sizes. Some psychological experiments are creepy because they tell us something disturbing about ourselves. However, other experiments are creepy because they’re just wrong.
Pit of Despair
Harry Harlow wasn’t exactly known for his empathy. This researcher basically gave birth to the animal rights movement in response to his crazy experiments. He separated baby monkeys from their mothers and kept them in isolation for up to a year. Many of the monkeys went crazy and never recovered.
The Facial Expressions Experiment
In 1924, a psychology student named Carney Landis performed a crazy experiment at the University of Minnesota. He basically painted lines on the faces of the participants in order to record their facial expressions in reaction to various stimuli (smelling ammonia, looking at various images, etc). The final bit, however, was where the insanity began. He gave the participants a rat and asked them to behead it. Although nobody liked the idea, a third of the participants actually did it. For the other two thirds, he picked up the knife and did it himself.
Monkey Drug Trials
Conducted in 1969 by Deneau, Yanagita & Seevers, the researchers basically gave drugs to monkeys (everything from cocaine to alcohol). Although you may have expected the monkeys to go a little crazy…they went absolutely insane. Some of them tore off their own fingers or ripped out all of their hair.
The Aversion Project
Once again, “creepy” is too light of a term here, but during the ’70s and ’80s, the military in South Africa tried to convert gay recruits by castration and other methods. The psychiatrist who oversaw the experiments, Dr. Aubrey Levin, then moved to Canada where he practiced until recently (he was convicted for sexual abuse).
The Monster Study
In 1939, Wendell Johnson performed this experiment at the University of Iowa. He basically separated orphans into two groups. He gave positive speech therapy to half the children (praising their fluency) and negative speech therapy to the other half (telling them they stuttered, couldn’t speak well, etc). The orphans in the negative group developed self-esteem problems that lasted into adulthood. In fact, some of them even developed actual problems with their speech. This experiment was labeled the “Monster Experiment” because his colleagues couldn’t believe that Johnson would experiment on orphans like this.
In the 1920s, researchers at John Hopkins introduced furry animals to an infant named Albert. He seemed to be curious and enjoyed playing with them. Then, the researchers conditioned Albert to dislike the animals by loudly striking hammers whenever they appeared. Unfortunately, Little Albert died of unrelated causes when he was only 6. But he never did enjoy furry animals again in his short lifetime.
The Bystander Effect
In the 1960s, researchers at Columbia University conducted experiments to better understand why a group of people was less likely to help someone in distress than an individual. They placed participants in a room and gradually filled it with smoke. Sure enough, when there was only one person in the room, they reported the smoke almost immediately. When there were more than one…it took a while. Note: this is because each person assumes that somebody else will do something or that everything is okay because nobody else is doing anything.
Stanford Prison Experiment
Another famously unethical experiment, in 1971 Philip Zimbardo performed an experiment where half the participants were guards and the other half were prisoners. After just a few days, the guards had turned into the sadistic abusers and the prisoners had all become depressed.
It has been said before, but “creepy” is a massively insufficient adjective to describe what happened here. Prisoners of war at this covert Japanese research facility were experimented on in unthinkable ways. They were blown up, cut to pieces, frozen, and used to test weapons.
The Milgram Experiment
Psychologist Stanley Milgram wanted to know how so many people could have been complicit with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. He conducted experiments where an “official” would instruct participants to administer electric shocks to a person (actor) in another room by pressing a button. The shocks increased in power (as did the screams) until the screams ceased. In fact, had the shocks been real…almost every participant would have killed the actor. And to make it worse, the actors often pleaded for the shocks to stop. Note: this study is famous for showing that, given the right circumstances, we are all capable of unspeakable atrocities