10 Psychological Experiments That Went Horribly Wrong

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Psychology as we know it is a relatively young science, but since its inception it has helped us to gain a greater understanding of ourselves and our interactions with the world. Many psychological experiments have been valid and ethical, allowing researchers to make new treatments and therapies available, and giving other insights into our motivations and actions.

Sadly, others have ended up backfiring horribly – ruining lives and shaming the profession. Here are ten psychological experiments that spiraled out of control.

10. Stanford Prison Experiment

In 1971, social psychologist Philip Zimbardo set out to interrogate the ways in which people conform to social roles, using a group of male college students to take part in a two-week-long experiment in which they would live as
prisoners and guards in a mock prison.

However, having selected his test subjects, Zimbardo assigned them their roles without their knowledge, unexpectedly arresting the “prisoners” outside their own homes. The results were disturbing. Ordinary college students turned into viciously sadistic guards or spineless (and increasingly distraught) prisoners, becoming deeply
enmeshed within the roles they were playing. After just six days, the distressing reality of this “prison” forced
Zimbardo to prematurely end the experiment.

9. The Monster Study

In this study, conducted in 1939, 22 orphaned children, 10 with stutters, were separated equally into two groups:
one with a speech therapist who conducted “positive” therapy by praising the children’s progress and fluency of
speech; the other with a speech therapist who openly chastised the children for the slightest mistake. The
results showed that the children who had received negative responses were badly affected in terms of their psychological health.

Yet more bad news was to come as it was later revealed that some of the children who had previously been unaffected developed speech problems following the experiment. In 2007, six of the orphan children were awarded $925,000 in compensation for emotional damage that the six-month-study had left them with.

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