Al Saraya Al Safra: 5 of the World’s Most Disturbingly Unethical Psychological Experiments

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Written by Merna Abdelsalam

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AHS Asylum, anyone?

Hey there, everybody! Hope you are not trespassing. Al Saraya Al Safra welcomes you back. This week we’re introducing something quite wicked, human experiments! But not the usual ones. No! The more unethical and rather disturbing ones. Remember the mad scientist from the last article? Well, if you don’t, you’ve got to check out Horoscopes or Personality Disorders in Disguise? Because he is still with us, unfortunately; except this time, he has become quite a lot more demented and, to your bad luck, his victim is… you!

Uh-oh!
Uh-oh!

What is a psychological experiment?

Since the main purpose of Al Saraya Al Safra is to introduce psychology-related terminology, we’ll have to know first what a psychological experiment is!

Scientifically speaking, a psychological experiment is one where a cause (also called independent variable) is tested to measure the degree and intensity of the effect (also called dependent variable). During the experiment, everything apart from the cause and effect is controlled so that they do not affect the results of the experiment, and these are called the extraneous variables!

In some experiments, where a number of subjects are to be studied, one group remains without any treatment so that the experimenters can compare their tested group to a normal group, which the one that did not receive treatment, this is called a control group (you will see an example of this with the first experiment below).

How can it be unethical?

An unethical experiment is one that is performed illegally; without the consent, knowledge, of the subject, or the person tested.

Ok, this is starting to get quite scientific, so let’s get to the real talk.

Dear subject, it is better that you remain still, struggling won’t help you, so… counting down the world’s most disturbingly unethical human experiments:

“I’m not gonna kill you. I’m only gonna hurt you, really really bad”

5.  The Monster Study (1939):

Children, orphans, involved in the Monster Study
Children, orphans, involved in the Monster Study

In 1939, Wendell Johnson and his student Mary Tudor from the University of Iowa conducted an experiment with the aim of studying the causes of stuttering in children. The experiment involved placing children (orphans) into two groups. The control group was given a positive speech therapy and praised for the fluency of their speech. The experiment group was given negative speech therapy and belittled for every speech imperfection.

Most of the normal speaking children who were in the experimental group suffered permanent psychological effects and developed speech problems during the course of their life. In 2001, the University of Iowa issued a public apology for their truly monstrous study. 

4.  The Milgram Study (1963):

Psychologist Stanley Milgram from Yale University aimed to study the psychology of total obedience in an attempt to explain the Nazi acts of genocide during World War II, since the war criminals’ main defense was that they were simply following the orders. How far can someone go with their obedience towards their superiors? Well, this was the variable to be tested. “Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders?”

The subjects responded to a newspaper ad, and accepted to take part of a study of learning. Although this might seem as consent but in reality is not since the real nature of the study was not revealed. The subject would act as a teacher who was ordered to administer electric shocks to the student, who were actors in reality, for every mistake they make. And the more mistakes, the higher the voltage, and the more pain the actor would seem to be going through.

A shocking figure emerged: Two-thirds of the subjects have continued to give voltages to the extreme, of 450 volts, even though the student would appear to have fainted from pain. It was found that ordinary people can go great extents with their blind obedience to authority even if it meant harming others. 

3.  Stanford Prison Experiment (1971):

Although this experiment is not unethical in its nature, since all of the subjects gave consent prior to the initiation of the experiment, the devastating results and its infamy make it disturbing enough for this list. Psychologist Philip Zimbardo from the University of Stanford conducted this experiment to simulate real prisons and examine the effect of being either a prisoner or a guard on the behavior of the individuals. The subjects were not told how to carry out their roles specifically, but were only given a set of basic guidelines.

It was aimed to place the prisoners in a situation that causes disorientation, degradation, and depersonalization, all of which are similar to those of a real prison. The guards became extremely violent towards the prisoners and started abusing their roles, which caused the prisoners to experience emotional disturbances and depression. The experiment was terminated after exactly five days due to the disastrous results.

One of the best examples is the Abu Gharib scandal which shook the U.S. and the whole world in 2004. There are three movies that attempted to depict this experiment: The Experiment (2001), The Experiment (2010), and The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015).

2.  The Aversion Project (1970s and 1980s):

Dr. Aubrey Levin
Dr. Aubrey Levin

In 1969, South Africa’s apartheid army forced white lesbian and gay soldiers to undergo ‘sex-change operations, and submitted many to chemical castration, electric shock, and other unethical medical experiments under the supervision of army colonel and psychologist Aubrey Levin, who believed he could cure homosexuality. He would strap electrodes to his patients arms with wires delivering electric shocks.

The patients were shown nude imagery of their same sex and then received severe shocks, this is known as aversion. Those who could not be cured with drugs, aversion shock therapy, hormone treatment, and other radical psychiatric means were chemically castrated or given sex-change operations. Despite the human rights violations by Levin, he became a Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Calgarys Medical School in Canada. His license was only suspended in 2010! 

1.  David Reimers Sexual Reassignment (1965-2004):

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Left: John Money – Right: David Reimer

Psychologist John Money was a proponent of the theory that gender is nurture, learnt behavior, rather than nature. To his pleasure, he had found his test rat; David Reimer, a case study. A boy whose male genitals were burnt off during a disastrous circumcision. Money wanted to prove to the world that gender can be taught, and, so, convinced Davids parents to have a sex change and raise him as a girl, whom they called Brenda, for better sexual maturation.

David had a constructed vagina and was given hormonal supplements, and was not told of the accident. Growing older, David provided the failure of Moneys theory, although Money himself was producing reports as a proof of his success. Money’s experiment was a disaster that created psychological scars which David could not overcome, resulting in his suicide by the age of 38.

Your thoughts?

Which of these experiments do you believe could have been useful? Which is the most useless and disturbing? Do you usually find it interesting to watch/read about experiments as such? Tell us what you think in the comments!

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