5 Of The Most Evil Psychological Experiments

If there is one trait that scientists are known for it's curiosity. What makes a successful scientist is their unrelenting pursuit of novel information. Sometimes that comes at the cost of morality. As sung by Tom Lehrer, “Once the rocket goes up who cares where she comes down/that's not my department, said Werner Von Braun.” It may sound funny, but it's essentially true: Werner was the father of modern rocket science.

Initially his work was funded by the Nazis and developed such nifty toys as the rocket bomb that scared England's umbrella's inside out. Once he was caught by the Allies, however, he went merrily to work on America's projects and can be considered one of the most important men in the history of NASA.

The point isn't that scientists are evil, uncaring monsters. It's that they very often couldn't give a toss who gets hurt so long as they can satisfy their lust for their area of study. The American Psychological Association has very specific rules and guidelines for conducting experiments – but it didn't always. And sometimes people just flat out ignored them. I mean, how are you to know how a foreign diplomat would react in a CIA honey trap if you didn't entice some salesmen off the street and have prostitutes dose them with LSD?

That happened. It was called Operation Midnight Climax, and one poor guy was so distressed by the drugging that he jumped out of the hotel window and make a big splat on Broadway. That might be the evilest psychological experiment you can think of, but that's because you lack imagination. The scientists whose experiments made this list put you to shame.

Don't get me wrong, you can understand the motivation behind some of these experiments. But others, like giving a little boy a sex change without his knowledge and lying to him about it? Not so much. Want to know some of the things done in the name of science? Read on.

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5 Stanford Prison Experiment

The Scientist

Philip Zimbardo, Stanford University

The Experiment:

Someone in The Office of Naval Research actually thought it was worthwhile to fund an experiment into why prisoners and guards at prisons would dislike one another. This is slightly less stupid than you think when you consider that the inmates and guards at this prison were usually from similar jobs – they were sailors, soldiers and marines. They were locked up on opposite sides of the bars frequently just by chance.

Why weren't they sympathetic with one another? Dr. Zimbardo decided to explore this question by taking 24 of his students and making some of them prisoners and some of them guards. The roles were assigned randomly and the students were selected for being stable individuals with no psychological problems. He then chucked them into a prison he'd built in the Stanford psychology department and observed their behavior. But not until he told the guards to make the prisoners feel bored, afraid and powerless.

How Evil Was It?

For $15 a day a random middle-class college student was arrested and tossed in a cell, or hired to supervise those new prisoners. The prisoners went through the whole experience of being arrested for a crime they didn't commit. They were stripped and deloused, tossed in a little cell and couldn't go anywhere but the bathroom. And they had to do that blindfolded.

The people who enforced this? Other randomly assigned kids. These kids were made to feel like they were in a real prison. Only worse. A thick chain was locked on the right ankle of each prisoner. That would get a real prison warden fired. It was so bad that within a few days, otherwise normal, sober, and sane individuals broke down in tears or abused their fellow man.

What Did We Learn?

Prison guards are absolute bastards and prisoners have it tough. The young men assigned – by a coin toss – to be guards abused the prisoners for no other reason than that they could. The prisoners suffered psychological trauma and some quit early. Some of the prisoners even harassed other prisoners on the orders of the guards. What we really learned was that prison is bad, mmkay? If only we used that information to reform it.

4 MK Ultra

The Scientist:


The Experiment:

Project MK Ultra was the name of a secret CIA inquiry into the possibility of mind control. Objectives ranged from creating Jason Bourne style super assassins that didn't even know they were killers to influencing heads of state and changing the course of important meetings. These goals were accomplished through dosing subjects with all sorts of different drugs, zapping them with electronics, or hypnotizing them. One mental patient was dosed with LSD for 174 days.

How Evil Was It?

One of the things you can't even do legally to military prisoners is give them drugs without getting their permission. But the CIA was all like, meh, and straight-up drugged mental patients, prisoners and even each other without any notice whatsoever. For some time, if you worked at the CIA, getting a surprise helping of LSD was an occupational hazard. This is the government, people. They thought it was OK – and even a good idea – to use crazy-making drugs on people who protect our secrets to figure out how it worked. If you need convincing that these experiments were evil, just consider that we took our cue from Nazi experiments conducted on Allied POWs.

What Did We Learn?

We learned, mainly, that it is not possible to turn a random person into Jason Bourne by giving him LSD. Any music festival enthusiast could have told them that. We also learned that it is possible to turn a promising student into the terror of modern society by subjecting them to serious mental stress. MK Ultra turned Ted Kaczynski into The Unabomber.

3 Milgram Experiments

The Scientist:

Stanley Milgram, Yale University

The Experiment:

Stanley Milgram's experiment is taught in all undergraduate psychology curriculum. It's known as the Obedience to Authority experiment, because Dr. Milgram wanted to see just how hard it is to get someone to do something they know is wrong. It turns out the answer is, “Pretty darn easy.” All it takes is an authority figure telling them it's OK and most normal folks will just kill a perfect stranger.

The experiment is fairly simple. One actor goes and pretends to sit in an electric chair in another room. Another pretends to be a doctor administering the experiment on the actor while the subject is put at the controls of the fake electric chair. The “doctor” has the subject zap the actor in the other room as punishment for not remembering a series of words. The strength of the electric jolt and the protests of the victim all increase throughout the experiment. Just how much of a zap would a normal person give to a complete stranger just because a doctor told them to?

How Evil Was It?

Enough to kill. About 65 percent of the first set of subjects kept on a zappin' even after the “victim” begged them to stop. After they said they wanted to be released. Even after they stopped responding. Even if the actor told the subject they had a heart condition before they got in the chair.

Besides giving evil doctors the world 'round the blueprint for having good people become evil minions, the real subjects of the experiment – the zappers – sometimes never trusted authority figures again. They were incredibly uncomfortable, groaning, digging their fingernails into their flesh and generally feeling like they may be killing someone.

What We Learned?

We learned that, yes, it is possible that good people can do evil things when they're “just following orders.” As if we needed confirmation after WW2.

2 David Reimer's Double Sex Change

The Scientist:

John Money, Johns Hopkins Hospital

The Experiment:

David Peter Reimer was a boy who – brace yourself – lost his penis thanks to a botched circumcision. David's genitalia was so badly damaged that it basically wasn't a penis anymore. At a loss for what to do for their poor seven-month-old son, David's parents turned to John Money. Money was a psychologist who believed that gender roles and sexual identity were learned and not inherent. His work on David would go a long way toward disproving his own theories.

You see, Money convinced David's parents that while he could never be a functioning man, he could become a normal woman. So they turned his outie into an innie, cut off his testicles, and David became Brenda: A little girl without either a penis or a vagina that peed through a little hole in her abdomen. I hope I never have to write anything that horrifying ever again.

Contrary to Dr. Money's theories, David never felt like a girl. He was suicidally depressed and only discovered the truth about his condition when he was almost 14. Brenda decided to become David and lived until he was 38, when he killed himself.

How Evil Was It?

Not evil enough for you? OK, hold on to your eye holes because here comes some lemon juice. Little David, before he was even 13 years old, was given hormones to grow boobs. As a little baby he was forced by Dr. Money to play doctor and simulate sex with his step brother. They explored each others' genitals under a physician's supervision.

What Did We Learn?

We learned that some people are born to be boys, and some to be girls, and changing their genitals and making them dress in the other gender's clothes and play with their toys doesn't change that. There had to be a better way.

1 The Third Wave

How does this.... become this?


Ron Jones, History teacher, Cubberly High, Sacramento, California

The Experiment:

Ever wonder if Americans could be indoctrinated into a fascist uprising? Ron believed they could. So he did it. He turned his students into freaking Nazis. Jones' class didn't believe him when he said that ordinary Germans could claim ignorance of the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. He decided to show them, and so he started a movement in his history class. He called it the Third Wave and the intended goal of Third Wave was to eliminate democracy. I want to reiterate that this happened in an American high school.

We like to think we invented democracy and defeated fascism. Freedom, individuality and a hatred of fascism are some of our core values. But hearing about this new movement, the kids all jumped on board, presumably while singing some rhyming diddy about group calisthenics.

Jones originally intended for the experiment to last only one day, but it took on a life of his own. On the first day he took on the demeanor of an authority figure and made his class much more strict. This improved the efficiency of the class and the kids kept it up the second day without prompting. By the third day his students were recruiting more students on their own. By the last day they were ratting on each other for not following the rules – for example, saluting one another in the halls and outside of school – and by the last day it took a dramatic presentation to convince the students that The Third Wave was not a national movement and was in fact a big pile of fascist horseshit perpetrated by one little history teacher.

How Evil Was It?

This is pretty darned evil. Not only did this history teacher show a bunch of kids that they are weak minded sheeple capable of being conned into overthrowing democracy, but he gave each of those kids a practical primer on how to organize their own Hitler Youth. Just remember: Every evil, murdering Nazi was once an innocent baby - just like our kids.

What Did We Learn?

We learned that it is damned easy to turn a bunch of kids who want nothing more than to belong to something important into a terrorist organization. Huzzah!

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