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10 Unethical Psychological Experiments that Ended in Very Disturbing Results

Wonders of the human brain, with all its intelligent and emotional powers, have always attracted the brightest of humans. Many of the psychologists and neurologists have made great efforts to understand the human brain in order to understand and/or control human behavior. With the evolution of civilization, the extent at which the scientists go in their experiments, have now become very human. However, many of the experiments still fall under the completely inhumane, unethical, and immoral area. We’ve compiled a list of the 10 most bizarre, unethical, and inhumane psychological experiment that went horribly wrong and ended up with disastrous results.

1. Tony LaMadrid – This University of California study asked the participants who were schizophrenics to stop taking medicine. The result of the program was devastating when almost all the participant patients relapsed into the mental illness and one participant committed suicide.

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Tony LaMadrid, a 23-year-old male with a history of depression and schizophrenia, was being treated for the same at the UCLA Medical Center Psychiatric Department from 1985 to 1989. During that time, he was both a patient and an active participant in a psychiatric study approved by the university. This study, “Developmental Processes in Schizophrenic Disorders,” was directed by psychologist Keith H. Nuechterlein with psychiatrist Michael Gitlin, and its aim was to gather data on the how and why of schizophrenic relapses. This experiment required patients to get off the medicines to evaluate effects of the medicine on the patients, on the non-patients, and on the way the brain works. The experiment vaguely listed the potential negative side effects of the removal of medicine by mentioning that the patient’s condition may improve, worsen, or remain unchanged. However, the exact nature of the potential relapse was unspecified.
The patients undergoing the treatment and consequent experiment responded very negatively to the experiment. The result of the experiment was disastrous when more than 90% of the patients experienced very severe relapses over the course of the experiment. The experiment was also contaminated by many of the patients who resented being on medication often lying about the effects of the experiment on them. The experimenters never reinstated the medication nor did they delve deeper into the lives of the victims for further investigation. About six years into the experiment, Tony committed suicide by jumping off a building.(source)

2. Project QKHILLTOP – Another CIA project from the 50s that aimed to study Chinese brainwashing techniques which they then used to develop new methods of interrogation. The participants were subjected to “chemical, biological, and radiological” means for mind control in addition to imprisonment, deprivation, humiliation, torture, brainwashing, and hypnoses during the project.

In 1954, the CIA initiated a project named QKHILLTOP aimed to study Chinese brainwashing techniques and to develop effective methods of interrogation. Most of these studies were performed by the Cornell University Medical School’s human ecology study programs under the supervision of the director Dr. Harold Wolff. Dr. Wolff asked the CIA to provide him any information they could find regarding threats, coercion, imprisonment, deprivation, humiliation, torture, “brainwashing,” “black psychiatry,” and hypnosis, or any combination of these, with or without chemical agents. The research team would then assemble, collate, analyze, and assimilate this information and then undertake experimental investigations designed to develop new techniques of offensive/defensive intelligence use. He also asked for “suitable subjects” (Human beings) on whom his team could try this information and techniques. These techniques often involved secret drugs and various brain-damaging procedures. And to conduct these experiments, in addition to the subjects, he also asked for a proper place.
The results were so devastating that one author calls the CIA researchers “a bunch of bumbling sci-fi buffoons,” rather than a rational group of men who had run torture laboratories and medical experiments in major US universities. These experiments which involved torture, rape, and psychological abuse of adults and young children resulted in many of these participants becoming permanently insane.(source)

3. Emma Eckstein and Sigmund Freud – German doctor Freud treated patient Emma for hysteria and excessive masturbation even though Emma asked for help with vague symptoms like stomach ailments and mild depression. He performed a radical surgery on Emma with just a local anesthetic and cocaine. When the surgery turned out to be disastrous, Freud fled from the remedial surgery in horror.

At the age of 27, Emma Eckstein went to Dr. Sigmund Freud for stomach ailments and slight depression. Freud diagnosed Emma as suffering from hysteria and believed that she masturbated to excess. Since masturbation was considered as a dangerous mental illness in those days, Freud started a three-year-long psychoanalysis treatment of Emma.
Even though Emma proved to be a leading factor in major theories of Freud, including “Psychopathology,” “theory of deferred action,” and “the wish theory of psychosis and dreams,” it was Freud’s obsession with operating on Emma’s nose and sinuses to treat nasal reflex neurosis was what resulted in disaster. Since Freud believed that Emma’s habitual masturbation caused severe leg pain, and since he believed that the tissue of the nose and genitalia were linked, it can be cured by removing the middle turbinate. Freud performed a disturbing experimental surgery with Dr. Wilhelm Fliess on Emma in which she was anesthetized with only a local anesthetic and cocaine before the inside of her nose was cauterized. The surgery proved to be a disaster resulting in profuse, recurrent nasal bleeding. Freud left a half-meter of gauze in Emma’s nasal cavity and the procedure of removing that gauze left Emma permanently disfigured. During this disastrous operation, Freud fled from the remedial surgery in horror.
Freud later concluded that Emma’s post-operative hemorrhages were hysterical “wish-bleedings” linked to “an old wish to be loved in her illness” and triggered as a means of “re-arousing [Freud’s] affection.” However, Emma continued her analysis with Freud until she was restored to full mobility and went on to practice psychoanalysis herself.(source)

4. Electroshock Therapy on Children – Dr. Lauretta Bender of New York’s Creedmoor Hospital employed electroconvulsive therapy for children with social issues. In this treatment which was performed on more than 100 children, they administered electroshock therapy to the patients every day for a total of twenty treatments. The children ended up being more anxious and were also observed to develop visual body distortion as the result of the test.

In the ’50s and ’60s, the head of children’s psychiatry at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, Lauretta Bender, started conducting extensive research on autism. She believed that autism is a type of schizophrenia and was often one of the first signs. For further research, she started experiments on the autistic kids where she administered electroconvulsive therapy to autistic patients. Bender’s methods included interviewing and analyzing a sensitive child in front of a large group, then applying a gentle amount of pressure to the child’s head. Supposedly, any child who moved with the pressure was showing early signs of schizophrenia. The experiments also included insulin-shock therapy where they gave the kids overdoses of insulin that put them into a short-term coma. She also gave the kid patients antipsychotic drugs like Thorazine. She also tried giving autistic kids LSD every day for nine months or more, but decided they were becoming “more anxious.” By the time this therapy was stopped, Bender administered electroconvulsive therapy to at least 100 children ranging in age from three years old to 12 years, with some reports indicating the total may be twice that number.
The results of these experiments were as shocking as the therapy itself. The condition of the children only worsened after the therapy. One six-year-old child went from being a shy, withdrawn child to acting increasingly aggressive and violent. A seven-year-old girl after five electroshock sessions became nearly catatonic. One of the Bender’s patients who became overly aggressive after about 20 such treatments was convicted for multiple murders later in adult life. Many other patients in their adulthood were reportedly in and of trouble and prison for a battery of petty and violent crimes. Two psychologists who conducted a study on the 50 of Bender’s young electroshock patients, concluded that nearly all patients were worse off after the “therapy” and some had become suicidal after the treatment.(source)

5. Sexual Reassignment – David Reimer, a Canadian boy, became the victim of a circumcision process accident when he was only seven months old in which his penis was destroyed. Dr. John Money persuaded the baby’s parents that sex reassignment surgery would be in Reimer’s best interest. The end result of the project was that in addition to his difficult lifelong relationship with his parents, other psychological issues, and unemployment, David took his own life by shooting himself.

In 1965, David (who was originally named Bruce) and Brian, two identical twin brothers, were born in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Six months later, the boys were diagnosed with phimosis. When they were referred for circumcision at the age of seven months in 1966, a urologist performed the operation on Bruce using the unconventional cauterization method. The procedure failed burning Bruce’s penis beyond repair. Doctors then chose not to operate on the twin Brian who was lucky enough to have his phimosis cleared later without surgery.
Parents who were concerned about Bruce’s future happiness and sexual function without a penis took him to Dr. John Money at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in 1967. Money was a psychologist and a pioneer in the field of sexual development and gender identity. He was the proponent of the “theory of gender neutrality”- that gender identity developed primarily as a result of social learning from childhood and that it could be changed with appropriate behavioral interventions.
Money and team persuaded Bruce’s parents that “sex reassignment surgery” would be in his best interest. At the age of 22 months, Bruce underwent a bilateral orchiectomy in which his testicles were surgically removed and a rudimentary vulva was fashioned. Bruce was reassigned to be raised as a female and was given the name Brenda. Money provided psychological support for the reassignment and continued to see him for about a decade for the consultation and to assess the outcome.
The results, according to Money himself, were very positive, however, during the once-a-year visit to Money, Bruce’s parents often lied about the success of the procedure and Bruce had experienced the visits to Baltimore as traumatic rather than therapeutic.
Bruce didn’t identify as a girl. He was ostracized and bullied by peers. He did not feel like a female even with the fancy dresses and female hormones. By the age of 13, Bruce became suicidal and threaten to take his own life if he was made to see Money again. On May 4, 2004, Bruce drove to a grocery store’s parking lot in his hometown of Winnipeg and took his own life by shooting himself in the head with a sawed-off shotgun at the age of 38 years.(source)

6. Project Artichoke – the CIA conducted a series of mind control projects using various methods and substances such as hypnosis, LSD, and total isolation as a form of physiological harassment for special interrogations on human subjects. The operation resulted in subjects left with fogged, faulty, and vague memories and amnesia.

In 1951, the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence initiated a project named “Artichoke” aimed at controlling minds. This project was supervised by an agent from the CIA research staff, a former army brigadier general, Paul F. Gaynor, and it gathered information from the intelligence divisions of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and FBI. The project also included the scope of the question, “Can we get control of an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against fundamental laws of nature, such as self-preservation?”
The experiments also carried out in-house and overseas experiments using LSD in addition to hypnosis and total isolation to harass subjects psychologically and for interrogation techniques on human subjects. The project also studied effects of forced morphine addiction, drug withdrawal, and the use of chemicals to incite amnesia on the unwilling human subjects. For the project participants or subjects, the CIA chose weaker members of the human race which according to them were homosexuals, racial minorities, and military prisoners. For the locations, they chose isolated places in Japan, Europe, Asia, and the Philippines.
Apart from the obvious inhumane results of the projects where all the participants became the victims of PTSD and amnesia, the collateral damage was even more horrible. The outbreak of dengue in the Key West city of Florida in 2010 where about 10 percent, or 1,000 people, of the coastal town’s population, were infected with the dengue fever virus was attributed to the usage of virus for experiments in this project. When Project Artichoke included viruses in their experiments, the official CIA document read, “Not all viruses have to be lethal…the objective includes those that act as short-term and long-term incapacitating agents.” Many CIA documents, as well as the findings of a congressional committee in 1975, revealed that three sites in Florida – Key West, Panama City, and Avon Park and two other locations were used by the CIA for experiments with mosquito-borne dengue fever and other biological substances.(12)

7. Operation Midnight Climax – Part of a larger CIA-sponsored mind control project, this project aimed at luring subjects to the safe houses and secretly give them LSD and other mind-altering substances. The project resulted in the participants having psychotic public outburst episodes on numerous occasion.

In the 1950s, the CIA as a part of Operation Midnight Climax, set up safe houses in San Francisco, Marin, and New York City. These safe houses acted as brothels to obtain a selection of men who would be too embarrassed to talk about the events. The CIA instructed the prostitutes who were on the CIA payroll to lure clients back to the safe houses where they were secretly infused with a wide range of substances, including LSD, and were monitored behind one-way glass. These lured civilians were also subject to the various studies that included extensive research into sexual blackmail, surveillance technology, and the possible use of mind-altering drugs in field operations. Apart from these totally illegal experiments, subjects were blackmailed into keeping the experiments a secret by threatening to extend their ‘’trips’’ indefinitely.
The operation soon expanded and CIA operatives began drugging people in restaurants, bars, and beaches. Not only civilians, but CIA employees, U.S. military personnel, and agents suspected of working for the other side in the Cold War were also drugged and became unwilling participants in this operation. The outcome of the project was horrible. There are documented instances of people having long-term debilitation. There are also reports of several deaths resulting from this project. Other adverse reactions included an instance where an operative who unwillingly received the drug in his morning coffee became psychotic and ran across Washington, seeing a monster in every car that passed him. Another psychotic outburst included Dr. Frank Olson who was an Army scientist and never took LSD or any mind-altering drug, went into deep depression after he was surprisingly and unwillingly was drugged with LSD, and when the effects of LSD, commonly called as “trip,” started. He later fell from a thirteen story window.(source)

8. Stanford Prison Experiment – the US Navy-funded Stanford University prison experiment attempted investigating the psychological effects of perceived power focusing on the power struggle between prisoners and prison officers. The experiment was ended abruptly after six days when some participants developed their roles as the officers, enforced authoritarian measures, and ultimately subjected some prisoners to psychological torture.

On August 14, 1971, Sandford University professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo started an experiment in an attempt to test the hypothesis that the inherent personality traits of prisoners and guards are the chief cause of abusive behavior in prison. He recruited 24 of the most psychologically stable and healthy male student participants by informing them that they would be in a two-week prison simulation. The US Office of Naval Research funded this research as an investigation into the cause of difficulties between guards and prisoners in the US Navy and US Marine Corps.
Zimbardo provided wooden batons to them and asked them to not physically harm the prisoners or withhold food or drinks. He, however, asked the guards to apply psychological pressure by, “creating in the prisoners the feelings of boredom, a sense of fear to some degree, create a notion of arbitrariness that their life is totally controlled by us, by the system, you, me, and they’ll have no privacy … We’re going to take away their individuality in various ways. In general, what all this leads to is a sense of powerlessness. That is, in this situation, we’ll have all the power and they’ll have none.” Prisoners were “arrested” at their homes and “charged” with armed robbery. The local Palo Alto police department assisted Zimbardo with the arrests and conducted full booking procedures on the prisoners, which included fingerprinting and taking mug shots. They also transported the prisoners to the mock prison from the police station, where they were strip-searched and given their new identities.
The horrible results started showing from the second day onward. A few prisoners started refusing to follow guards’ instructions and one guard attacked prisoners with a fire extinguisher. Within 36 hours, one prisoner started acting crazy and started screaming, cursing, and going into a rage. It took the supervising team a while to realize the prisoner was really suffering psychologically. As time passed, the guards started harassing prisoners mentally and physically. The experiment was halted after only six days when several guards became increasingly cruel, and approximately one-third of the guards exhibited genuine sadistic tendencies. Most of the guards were upset when the experiment was halted after only six days.(source)

9. Milgram Experiment – This Yale University psychology experiment measured the willingness of a test subject to obey an authority figure. In the experiment, they separated two participants into two rooms where they could hear but not see each other. Then they asked the test subject to ask questions to the other and for each wrong answer, they would be punished with an electric shock. Contradictory to the researchers’ expectations, the experiment found that a very high proportion of people were prepared to obey, albeit unwillingly, even if apparently causing serious injury and distress.

Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University in 1961, began a series of social psychological experiments to measure the willingness of the study participants, men from a diverse range of occupations with varying level of education, to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts conflicting with their personal conscience. The experiment started three months after the start of the trial of German Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Milgram developed this study to answer the hot topic question of the time: “Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?” This experiment was repeated many times over the years with consistent results around the globe.
In the experiment, they assigned roles of a teacher and a learner to the two participants. They chose an actor for the role of the learner and the test subject for the role of teacher. However, they kept it secret to the subject that the actor was also a teacher. They instead give the impression that the actor is. Milgram then placed both in an adjacent room and strapped the actor into an electric chair. Milgram also told the subject that the learner had a heart condition. They also gave the subject a sample electric shock to experience the pain the learner would experience. They gave the teacher a list of word pairs to teach the learner. The teacher would then read the first word of each pair and give the learner four option to choose the correct answer from. For every wrong answer, the teacher was to administer an electric shock to the learner with the voltage increasing in 15-volt increments for each wrong answer.
Some subjects stopped administrating electric shock to the learner after reaching 135 volts, however, most continued when they were assured that they would not be held responsible. Some, upon hearing the pain induced screams of the learners, started showing extreme stress signs such as nervous laughing. In the first set of experiments, 65 percent of experiment participants administered the experiment’s final massive 450-volt shock. In addition to the literal electric shock, the participants suffered extreme emotional stress and inflicted insights.(source)

10. Monster Study – This University of Iowa experiment involved orphan children from Davenport, Iowa. The supervisor divided these children into two groups and gave each group separate speech therapy. One group received positive and other received negatively. This study resulted in the children suffering lifelong negative psychological effects.

In 1939, Wendell Johnson, a University of Iowa professor with the help of his graduate student Mary Tudor, conducted an experiment involving 22 orphan children from Davenport, Iowa. They selected 22 subjects from a veterans’ orphanage in Iowa. They didn’t inform the intent of the research to the children and led them to believe that they were receiving speech therapy. Out of the 22 students, 10 students were stutterers, and the goal of the experiments was to try to induce stuttering in healthy children and to see whether telling stutterers that their speech was fine would produce a change.
This experiment created negative psychological effects on the orphans who were part of the negative therapy. Some of them retained speech problems for the rest of their lives. The experiment was called “Monster Study” as some of the Johnson peers were horrified that he would experiment on orphans to confirm a hypothesis. Johnson never published the results of the experiments in any peer-reviewed journals and Tudor’s thesis is the only official record of the details of the experiment. The experiment was kept hidden as it was feared to harm Johnson’s reputation in the wake of human experiments conducted by the Nazis during World War II.(source)

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