Psychological Experiments That Went Completely, Horribly Wrong

Amna Shoaib
Subjects had their colons removed, their gender altered... and some died.

Psychology can unlock some fascinating thoughts and motivations knocking around in our heads, but sometimes, it shows us the very worst side of humans. Some forays into psychology proved to be downright disastrous.

Stanford Prison Experiment

Long before TV shows like Big Brother and Survivor showed us how far we'd stoop when pitted against each other, notorious experimenter Philip Zimbardo investigated the most volatile intergroup relationship, that of prisoners and guards.

In standard Big Brother style, the participants were allocated to each group. The prisoners wore revealing smocks and were punished and abused by the sadistic guards, in reality their own classmates. The two-week experiment had to be stopped when one of the prisoners reportedly had a nervous breakdown.

Not surprisingly, Zimbardo served as the chief scientific officer for The Human Zoo.

Homosexual Aversion Therapy

Psychologists in yesteryear believed, naively, stupidly, that homosexuality could be "cured." So they had a wonderful idea: Why not associate homosexuality with pain to weed out the "gayness"? The design typically involved pairing homosexual images with shocks and injections that induced vomiting.

This did not work (obvs). The painful shocks administered during this horrific experiment ended up killing a person.

The Sex Alteration Experiment

Yet another story of a scientist who tried to play God and failed.

In 1966, 8-month-old Bruce Reimer lost his penis to a botched circumcision. He became the perfect prey for psychologist John Money, who wanted to prove that gender identity is not inborn, but a social construct. Money had baby David undergo a sex-change operation, alternating his genitalia and calling him Brenda.

But the study fell flat when "Brenda" started to behave like a boy. At 14, he was told the truth, after which he decided to go back to being a boy and call himself David. This identity crises supposedly shattered David, who committed suicide at 38.

The Pit Of Despair

Just for the fun of it, psychologist Harry Harlow decided to pull apart the lives of 3-month-old monkeys. He took the infants away from their mother, and kept them isolated in a "pit of despair" to see if they would become depressed (duh).

The poor babies fell into severe depression and many starved themselves to death.

Surgery to Treat Insanity

This one makes us particularly relieved we were not born in the 1900s. Dr. Henry Cotton believed that insanity was caused by infections. So to "heal" these infections, this nutjob started extracting teeth and tongues of his insane patients, family and himself. He did not just stop there. This virile person removed the colons from many of his patients, because seriously your colon is the reason you suffer bouts of depression. Forty-nine of these nightmare surgeries ended up killing the patient.

Cotton's justification: The insanity ended with the person.

Did You Take Your Meds Today?

A study by UCLA convinced schizophrenic patients to get off medication. The result? Most fell back to the disorder's grip, one threatened to kill his parents and in a tragic turn of events, one of the subjects, Tony LaMadrid, jumped to his death from a rooftop.