7 Of The Most Disturbing Psychological Experiments Ever Conducted On Humans

From the Little Albert experiment that terrified a helpless baby to the Monster study that tried to turn non-stammering children into stutterers, here are some of the most disturbing psychological experiments ever conducted on humans.

Psychology is a relatively new scientific field. While research into the workings of the human mind technically dates back to the ancient Greeks, psychology did not officially become an academic and scientific field of study until the 19th century, with many citing Wilhelm Wundt’s 1873 book, Principles of Physiological Psychology and his subsequent founding of the first psychology laboratory in 1879 as the modern origin of the field.

Wundt focused primarily on the study of human consciousness and applied various experimental methods to further his research. The German professor’s work was very “of the time” and may be considered unscientific by today’s standards, but his influence on the field is undeniable.

More than a century after Wundt opened his psychology lab, the field of psychology has grown exponentially, and researchers have gained a much deeper understanding of the human mind and human behavior. However, there have been some serious bugs along the way.

He American Psychological Association (APA) did not establish its first Code of Ethics until 1953. Before that, human psychology experiments had much more potential risk. The original guidelines, of course, have also been adapted and expanded upon over the past 70 years, and for good reason.

Below are seven examples of disturbing and unethical psychological experiments performed on humans.

Little Albert’s Experiment (1920)

YoutubePsychologist John Watson wearing a Santa Claus mask and scaring “little Albert”.

Ivan Pavlov’s experiments on classical conditioning are perhaps the most famous psychology experiments of all time. The Russian psychologist discovered that he could condition dogs to drool when they heard the dinner bell ring, even if there was no dinner in front of them, creating an association in their minds between the bell being rung and the dinner being served.

Some 20 years later, in 1920, Johns Hopkins University researchers John Watson and Rosalie Rayner tried to show that classical conditioning could work just as effectively in humans as it did in Pavlov’s dogs.

His tests are now known as Albert’s Little Experiment.

Throughout the study, Watson and Rayner introduced a nine-month-old baby, whom they named “Little Albert,” to various furry animals such as a rabbit and a white rat. At first, the baby did not show any negative reaction to any of the animals and even tried to stroke them.

But then, when one of the animals was presented again, the researchers would hit a steel pipe with a hammer. The sudden loud noise startled the baby and he began to cry.

Eventually, Albert came to fear anything resembling fluffy animals, including his family dogs and a bearded Santa Claus mask. Realizing how traumatized he was, his mother removed him from the study before Watson and Rayner could attempt to reverse the conditioning.

The study is controversial for several reasons. First, creating a fear response is a form of psychological damage that is prohibited in modern experiments, and was also heavily criticized at the time. Second, the study only had one subject, effectively rendering it useless as studies of this nature need a much larger sample size in order to draw conclusions.

Worst of all, however, Albert’s ultimate fate remains unknown to this day, and since his conditioning was never reversed, it is quite possible that he spent the rest of his life in fear of harmless objects and animals.

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