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The 10 Most Disturbing Psychological Experiments Ever

Today, the national and international associations of Psychology They have a code of ethical conduct that regulates practices in psychological research.

Experimenters must adhere to various standards regarding confidentiality, informed consent, or beneficence. Review committees are charged with enforcing these standards.

The 10 scariest psychological experiments

But these codes of conduct have not always been so strict, and many experiments in the past could not have been carried out at present for failing to comply with any of the principles fundamental. The following list compiles ten of the most famous and cruel experiments in behavioral science..

10. Little Albert's experiment

At Johns Hopkins University in 1920, John B. Watson carried out a study of classical conditioning, a phenomenon that associates a conditioned stimulus with an unconditioned stimulus until they produce the same result. In this type of conditioning, you can create a response from a person or animal to an object or sound that was previously neutral. Classical conditioning is commonly associated with Ivan Pavlov, who rang a bell every time he fed his dog until the mere sound of the bell made his dog salivate.

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Watson he tried classical conditioning on a 9-month-old baby he named Albert. Little Albert started out loving the animals in the experiment, especially a white rat. Watson began to match the rat's presence with the loud sound of metal hitting the hammer. Little Albert began to develop a fear of the white rat, as well as most furry animals and objects. The experiment is considered particularly immoral today because Albert was never sensitive to the phobias that Watson produced in him. The boy died of an unrelated illness at age 6, so doctors could not determine whether his phobias would have persisted into his adulthood.

9. Asch's conformity experiments

Solomon asch he experimented with conformity at Swarthmore University in 1951, putting a participant in a group of people whose task it was to equalize the lengths of a series of lines. Each individual had to announce which of three lines was the closest in length to a reference line. The participant was placed in a group of actors who were told to give the correct answer twice and then switch by saying the wrong answers. Asch wanted to see if the participant would settle and give the wrong answers knowing that otherwise he would be the only one in the group to give the different answers.

Thirty-seven of the 50 participants agreed on the wrong answers despite physical evidence otherwise. Asch did not ask for the informed consent of the participants, so today, this experiment could not have been carried out.

8. The bystander effect

Some psychological experiments that were designed to test the bystander effect are considered unethical by today's standards. In 1968, John Darley and Bibb Latané they developed an interest in witnesses who did not react to crimes. They were especially intrigued by the murder of Kitty Genoves, a young woman whose murder was witnessed by many, but none prevented it.

The couple conducted a study at Columbia University in which they presented a survey participant and left him alone in a room so that he could fill it out. Harmless smoke was beginning to leak into the room after a short period of time. The study showed that the participant who was alone was much faster in reporting the smoke than the participants who had the same experience but were in a group.

In another study by Darley and Latané, subjects were left alone in a room and told that they could communicate with other subjects through an intercom. They were actually just listening to a radio recording and she had been told that his microphone would be off until it was her turn to speak. During recording, one of the subjects suddenly pretends to be having a seizure. The study showed that the time it took to notify the researcher varied inversely with the number of subjects. In some cases, the investigator was never notified.

7. Milgram's obedience experiment

Yale University Psychologist Stanley milgram he wanted to better understand why so many people participated in such cruel acts that occurred during the Nazi Holocaust. He theorized that people generally obey authority figures, raising the questions: “Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were only following orders? Or, could we consider them all accomplices? In 1961, obedience experiments began.

The participants thought they were part of a memory study. Each trial had a pair of individuals divided into "teacher and student." One of the two was an actor, so there was only one true participant. The research was manipulated so that the subject was always the "teacher." The two were placed in separate rooms and the "teacher" was given instructions (orders). He or she pressed a button to penalize the student with an electric shock each time he gave an incorrect answer. The power of these shocks would increase each time the subject made a mistake. The actor began to complain more and more as the study progressed until he shouted from the supposed pain. Milgram he found that the majority of the participants followed orders by continuing to deliver shocks despite the obvious suffering of the "trainee".

If the alleged discharges had existed, most of the subjects would have killed the “student”. When this fact was revealed to the participants after the study ended, it is a clear example of psychological harm. Currently it could not be carried out for that ethical reason.

  • Discover this experiment in this post: "The Milgram Experiment: crimes for obedience to authority"

6. Harlow's Primate Experiments

In the 1950s, Harry harlow, from the University of Wisconsin, investigated infantile dependency on rhesus monkeys rather than human infants. He separated the monkey from his real mother, who was replaced by two "mothers", one made of cloth and one made of wire. The cloth "mother" served nothing but its comfortable feel, while the wire "mother" fed the monkey through a bottle. The monkey spent most of its time next to the cloth stem and only about an hour a day with the wire stem despite the association between the wire pattern and food.

Harlow also used intimidation to prove that the monkey found the cloth "mother" as a major reference. He would scare the baby monkeys and watch the monkey run towards the fabric model. Harlow also conducted experiments where he isolated monkeys from other monkeys in order to show that those who did not learn to be part of the group at a young age were unable to assimilate and mate when they got older. Harlow's experiments ceased in 1985 due to the APA's rules against mistreating animals as well as humans.

However, the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health has recently started similar experiments that involve isolating infant monkeys by exposing them to stimuli frightening. They hope to discover data on human anxiety, but are meeting resistance from animal protection organizations and the general public.

5. Seligman's Learned Helplessness

The ethics of experiments Martin Seligman on learned helplessness She would also be questioned today for her mistreatment of animals. In 1965, Seligman and his team used dogs as subjects to test how control might be perceived. The group placed a dog on one side of a box that was divided in two by a low barrier. They then administered a shock that was avoidable if the dog jumped over the barrier to the other half. The dogs quickly learned how to avoid electrical shock.

Seligman's group tied up a group of dogs and gave them shocks that they couldn't avoid. Then, by placing them in the box and shocking them again, the dogs didn't try to jump the barrier, they just cried. This experiment demonstrates the learned helplessness, as well as other experiments framed in social psychology in humans.

4. Sherif's Cave of Thieves Experiment

Muzafer Sherif He carried out the Thieves' Cave experiment in the summer of 1954, performing group dynamics in the midst of conflict. A group of pre-adolescent children were taken to a summer camp, but they did not know that the monitors were actually the researchers. The children were divided into two groups, which were kept separate. The groups only came into contact with each other when they were competing in sporting events or other activities.

The experimenters orchestrated the increase in tension between the two groups, in particular maintaining the conflict. Sherif created problems such as water scarcity, which would require cooperation between the two teams, and demanded that they work together to achieve a goal. In the end, the groups were no longer separated and the attitude between them was friendly.

Although the psychological experiment seems simple and perhaps harmless, today it would be considered unethical because Sherif used deception, because the boys did not know that they were participating in an experiment psychological. Sherif also did not take into account the informed consent of the participants.

3. The Monster Study

At the University of Iowa, in 1939, Wendell johnson and his team hoped to discover the cause of stuttering by trying to turn orphans into stutterers. There were 22 young subjects, 12 of whom were non-stutterers. Half of the group experienced positive teaching, while the other group was treated with negative reinforcement. The teachers continually told the last group that they were stutterers. No one in either group stuttered at the end of the experiment, but those who received negative treatment developed many of the self-esteem problems that stutterers often show.

Perhaps Johnson's interest in this phenomenon has to do with his own stuttering when he was a child, but this study would never pass a review committee evaluation.

2. Blue-eyed vs. brown-eyed students

Jane elliott She was not a psychologist, but she developed one of the most controversial exercises in 1968 by dividing the students into a group of blue eyes and a group of brown eyes. Elliott was an elementary school teacher in Iowa and was trying to give her students a hands-on experience on discrimination the day after she Martin Luther King Jr. he was killed. This exercise is still relevant to psychology today and transformed Elliott's career into one focused on diversity training.

After dividing the class into groups, Elliott would cite that scientific research showed that one group was superior to the other.. Throughout the day, the group would be treated as such. Elliott realized that it would only take one day for the "upper" group to become more cruel and the "lower" group more insecure. The groups then changed so that all students suffered the same damages.

Elliott's experiment (which he repeated in 1969 and 1970) received much criticism given the consequences negative in the self-esteem of the students, and that is why it could not be carried out again today. The main ethical concerns would be deception and informed consent, although some of the original participants still see the experiment as a change in their life.

1. The Stanford Prison Experiment

In 1971, Philip Zimbardofrom Stanford University conducted his famous prison experiment, which aimed to examine group behavior and the importance of roles. Zimbardo and his team chose a group of 24 male college students, who were considered “healthy”, both physically and psychologically. The men had signed up to participate in a "psychological study of life in prison," for which they were paid $ 15 a day. Half were randomly assigned prisoners, and the other half were assigned prison guards. The experiment was carried out in the basement of Stanford's Department of Psychology, where Zimbardo's team had created a makeshift prison. The experimenters went to great lengths to create a realistic experience for the prisoners, including bogus arrests at the participants' homes.

The prisoners were given a fairly standard introduction to prison life, rather than an embarrassing uniform. The guards were given vague instructions that they were never to be violent towards prisoners, but they were to maintain control. The first day passed without incident, but the prisoners rebelled on the second day by barricading their cells and ignoring the guards. This behavior surprised the guards and supposedly led to the psychological violence that broke out in the days after. The guards began to separate "good" and "bad" prisoners, and handed out punishments that included push-ups, solitary confinement and public humiliation of rebellious prisoners.

Zimbardo explained: “Within days, the guards became sadistic and the inmates became depressed and showed signs of acute stress. “Two prisoners abandoned the experiment; one eventually became a prison psychologist and consultant. The experiment, which was originally to last two weeks, ended early when Zimbardo's future wife, the psychologist Christina Maslach, visited the experiment on the fifth day and told her: “I think what you are doing to them is terrible. those guys.

Despite the unethical experiment, Zimbardo is still a working psychologist today. He was even honored by the American Psychological Association with a Gold Medal in 2012 for his career in the science of Psychology.

  • More information on Zimbardo's investigation at: "The Stanford Jail Experiment"
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