Most Disturbing Science Experiments Ever

Scientific experiments have been an important part of human development for centuries. However, some of them have been quite disturbing. Some, because they have revealed dark things about our world and our own psychology, while others are disturbing because they never should have been done in the first place.

The Milgram Experiment

1. The Milgram Experiment

One of the world's most famous experiments was conducted by Stanley Milgram, whose goal was to try and find out why so many people were complicit in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.

He did this by using an authoritative figure who instructed people to electrocute another participant, who they could not see. However, even though they could not see the person, they could hear their yells of pain when electrocuted.

Even though the electric shocks were not real, the participants did not know this. The results showed the almost all participants would have ended up killing the person who they could not see, just because an authority instructed them to do so.

Unit 731

2. Unit 731

During WWII, hundreds of Japanese war criminals were sent to a prison area called Unit 731. What they didn't know is that this prison unit was developed for the testing of chemical and biological warfare.

The prisoners were experimented on in unimaginable ways, and many of them died in the process. This unit operated in the period between 1935 and 1945, all the way until the very end of the Second World War.

The most devastating this about this experiment is that many people around the world have never heard of it, and because of this, the victims will never be properly remembered.

The Stanford Prison Experiment

3. The Stanford Prison Experiment

At the time, this experiment was not considered as unethical as it would be today. In 1971, psychologist Philip Zimbardo conducted an experiment where half of the student participants were randomly chosen to be prisoners, and the other half to be prison guards.

It only took a few days for both sides of the imagined prison to actively assume their roles and give each other hell and beyond. All of the prisoners became depressed, while all of the guards became active abusers. This experiment highlighted how little it takes for the human mind to switch to a dark side.

The Bystander Effect

4. The Bystander Effect

In the 1960s, a research experiment by Columbia University psychologists was conducted to discover why people are less likely to offer help in a dangerous situation if there are other people around them.

Participants were placed in a room in various numbers, ranging from a single participant to many. Then, smoke began to fill the room. The researchers measured to see how long it took before someone responded to the smoke.

Interestingly, when there was only a single participant in the room, they reported the smoke immediately. But when there were many participants, they seemed to be waiting for someone else to push the button.

Little Albert

5. Little Albert

The 1920s were very early stages of the development of modern psychology, which is why the experiment conducted on Little Albert was particularly cruel.

Like many children, Albert the toddler enjoyed playing with furry animals. However, a psychologist wanted to see if he could make Albert hate the furry animals by playing a loud noise every time the animals were present.

Sure enough, Albert quickly grew to hate the furry animal toys. We now know very well that traumatic experiences make us fearful of things, but at the time it was an amazing discovery.

The Monster Study

6. The Monster Study

This experiment deserves its name if for nothing else, then for the sheer audacity of the researcher, Wendell Johnson, who in 1939 performed a psychological experiment on orphans.

He separated the orphans into two groups. To the first half, he gave positive speech and praised them for their work. To the other half, he gave only negative speech and reprimanded them for almost everything they did.

His colleagues were the ones who named it the 'Monster Experiment' because they could not comprehend what he had done to the children. Many of the orphans who were in the negative group had to deal with the side effects for years to come.

The Aversion Project

7. The Aversion Project

There have been a number of horrible experiments conducted on members of the gay community, but this one is particularly appalling. During the 80s, psychiatrist Dr. Aubrey Levin decided to come up with a way to convert recruits who were gay.

He decided that the best way to do this was through castration. He conducted most of these experiments in South Africa, but then also continued to do so in Canada until very recently in history.

He has since been convicted for sexual and psychological abuse, but many men have been damaged for life due to his horrific experiment.

Monkey Drug Trials

8. Monkey Drug Trials

Sadly, many experiments have been conducted on animals over the years. And although they claim to do so for the benefit of the human race, many were simply cruel and unnecessary.

In 1969, researchers gave alcohol and drugs to monkeys to monitor how they would behave when under the influence. They gave them everything they could think of, because they believed that the monkeys would be an adequate representation of how humans would react.

Unfortunately, the effect on the monkeys was so extreme that the animals ended up hurting themselves and other animals around them. Luckily, this is no longer possible to do as an experiment.

The Facial Expressions Experiment

9. The Facial Expressions Experiment

What started out as a more or less regular experiment turned into something gruesome. In 1924, Carney Landis conducted an experiment where he drew lines on the expressions of people's faces to see how the muscles moved.

The participants were shown many images, heard sounds, and even smelled things in order to produce a facial expression. Unfortunately, at the end of the experiment, the psychologist asked the participants to behead a rat.

About a third of the participants actually did it. For the other two thirds who didn't want to do it, Landis did it himself in front of the participant.

Pit of Despair

10. Pit of Despair

Researcher Harry Harlow is one of the main reasons why animal rights laws were developed over the years. His many experiments on animals were heartless, to say the least, and unnecessary.

The Pit of Despair was an experiment where he separated baby monkeys from their mothers and kept them in dark isolation for a very long period of time. When the baby monkeys were let out, they were so mentally disturbed that they could no longer live properly.

It is truly remarkable how far we have come in order to protect animals, so that insane experiments such as this one need not happen again.

David Reimer

11. David Reimer

This is another unfortunate experiment which ended in the participant's suicide. David was one of two twin brothers born in Canada. Both twins were born with urinary problems and a circumcision was recommended as the cure. His brother's surgery went well, but David's surgery was botched.

Because so much of his genitals were ruined by the surgery, a psychologist told his parents to raise him as a girl, which is what they did for the next fourteen years of his life.

When David discovered that he was born as a boy, he immediately tried to revert the process and go back to being a boy. However, the ordeal left him so psychologically damaged that he later committed suicide.

Nazi Freezing Experiments

12. Nazi Freezing Experiments

The unfortunate reason why we know about hypothermia is because of the experiments that Nazi scientists conducted on prisoners.

The scientists would submerge the prisoners in freezing water for a long period of time and watch what happens. When the prisoner lost consciousness, they would try to re-heat their body, often in very unethical ways.

Sometimes, the researchers also left the prisoners outside in the cold for a long time to watch how the freezing temperature would affect their skin. Many lost their lives in these experiments as a result.

Lost in The Mall

13. Lost in The Mall

Three psychologists in the 90s wanted to see if it was possible to implant fake memories into people's minds. They did this by talking about fake memories between the participant's speech about their real memories.

One of the most important fake memories that they used was being lost in the mall and having their parents look for them. The participants ended up truly believing the fake memories and could not forget them.

This experiment shed a creepy light on the weakness and unreliability of human memory, and how quickly we can be made to believe in something that never actually happened.


14. Pre-cognition

Psychologist David Bem wanted to prove that people's choices in life could actually be affected by events that were about to happen in the future.

The subjects were asked to choose a particular response, much the same as they would be asked to do in regular experiments. Choosing between two cards, for example. However, the interesting thing about this experiment is that Bem added his conditioning factors after the participants had made a choice (which he did not know what it was).

Remarkably, the study did actually show that many participants made choices depending on what he was about to do in the future.

Mengele’s Twin Studies

15. Mengele’s Twin Studies

Another terrifying experiment to come from the Nazi's is the Mengele experiment. In fact, there are many experiments that were conducted by Dr. Mengele, who could easily be named as the definition of evil.

In this particular experiment, he chose twins from the concentration camps. On one twin, he performed an almost endless array of horrible experiments, while using the second twin as a control factor. He wanted to see if something would also happen to the other twin.

These experiments did not produce any meaningful results, and were only used to fuel Mengele's insanity.

No Free Will

16. No Free Will

Although we truly want to believe that we have the power of free will, many experiments have shown that this is not the case. Frighteningly, there are actually many factors that determine our decisions, meaning that we aren't nearly in control of our freedom as we think we are.

Benjamin Libet was able to show that an array of subconscious factors are the ones that are truly responsible for the decisions we make in life. Everything from our childhood to our current environment and psychological state.

It is sad to know that we do not have the freedom of thought that we so passionately believe in, but luckily, we can always work on improving it.

Pavlov’s Orphan Experiments

17. Pavlov’s Orphan Experiments

Psychologist Ivan Pavlov was famous for conditioning dogs and rats to salivate at the sound of a bell. However, it wasn't long before he ended up taking his experiments too far.

Because they didn't have parents to protect them, Pavlov used orphans to try and also make them salivate at the sound of a bell. Unfortunately, children are not as agreeable as animals are, so they would often refuse Pavlov's food.

He decided to sort out this problem by strapping the children down and force-feeding them. All this did was cause trauma for the children.

Tuskegee Syphilis Study

18. Tuskegee Syphilis Study

During the syphilis outbreak in the mid and late 20th century in Alabama, the U.S. Health Service decided to conduct a long experiment to monitor the illness over a long period of time.

A number of African-American men with syphilis were chosen for the study. They were told that they would receive free healthcare for the rest of their lives, and that their syphilis would be cured much sooner.

Unfortunately, they did not receive any medicine and were never cured of the illness. Luckily, a whistle-blower was able to stop this from going any further.

Project MK-ULTRA

19. Project MK-ULTRA

This bizarre experiment was conducted with the aim to see if mind control could somehow be used as a weapon. Not only was this unethical, it was also an experiment which left the participants with a serious addiction.

They did this by gathering prostitutes and injecting them with LSD. They then conducted a series of tests to see if their minds could be controlled in the process.

Needless to say, the experiment was unsuccessful and only caused further harm to the women that were part of it.

The Experiments of North Korea

20. The Experiments of North Korea

North Korea is by now well-known as one of the most dangerous places on Earth for a regular civilian. This is especially true for people who have had the misfortune to find themselves in a North Korean prison.

Many horrible experiments were conducted on these people and their families. Some of the experiments include surgery without the use of anesthesia and suffocation in gas chambers. Most of the participants have probably not survived these experiments.

The sad thing is that we are still unsure to this day of what kind of experiments are still being conducted in North Korea and how many people are affected by them.


21. Kamera

Kamera means "chamber" in Russian. This facility was infamous in the Soviet Union because of the many horrible experiments that it was used to conduct. Before other countries came to the aid of the participants, this was a completely unmonitored facility.

Its main purpose was to expose participants to poisonous gases and to then watch what it does to their body. For example, the vicious poison K-2 was administered to the chamber, causing the participant's body to physically shrink before dying.

The terrifying part is that there are some reports which claim that this facility was reopened at some point in the 90s. No one outside of Russia really knows if it still works or not.

The Three Christs of Ypsilanti

22. The Three Christs of Ypsilanti

Psychiatric studies often have to deal with strange beliefs that people have about themselves and the world around them. In fact, these people are so convinced that this is their truth, that it is almost impossible to make them believe otherwise.

Researcher Milton Rokeach brought together three psychiatric patients into a single room. The interesting thing about them is that all three of them believed that they were God.

Initially, they argued among themselves and even beat each other up in the process. However, the only conclusion that they could eventually each come to was that the other two participants were the crazy ones.

The Eye Color Experiment

23. The Eye Color Experiment

In order to show how easily discrimination can be inserted into daily life, a school teacher named Jane Elliot decided to conduct an experiment with her own students.

Martin Luther King Jr had recently been assassinated, and she used this event to show how the idea of color affects people. She divided her students into two groups - children with blue eyes and children with brown eyes. She then told them that blue-eyed children are superior and treated them in a way in which they received privileges.

The brown-eyed kids quickly started performing poorly and feeling depressed. This experiment was a revelation at the time.

The UCLA Schizophrenia Study

24. The UCLA Schizophrenia Study

Schizophrenia is a very sensitive mental illness which really cannot be played around with. The medicine is very specific and must be administered regularly and by professionals.

Unfortunately, a group of researchers decided to see what would happen if patients were taken away from their pills. For some reason, the researchers believed that the brain would be able to heal itself.

Sadly, the patients went into a very serious decline of mental health. One patient threatened to kill their parents, while another jumped off a building. This experiment has never been repeated again.

Neuromarketing Experiments

25. Neuromarketing Experiments

Neuromarketing is a strange and often dangerous field, which studies how marketing and advertisements affect the human brain. As you can imagine, the purpose of the research is to make as many people as possible believe the advertisements.

Dr. Albert M. Kligman's Prisoner Subjects

26. Dr. Albert M. Kligman's Prisoner Subjects

Dr. Albert M. Kligman was a dermatologist who decided to use prison inmates as test subjects. His idea was that the prison inmates were easy to reach and most of them would be willing to participate because they had nothing much to do.

This turned out to be true. In 1951, many prison inmates willingly joined Kligman for his many experiments, including those for shampoo, detergents, and skin creams.

Surprisingly, there was not any long-term damage to the prisoners. Kligman later went on to invent the famous skin product Retin-A.

Henrietta Lacks

27. Henrietta Lacks

Surprisingly, much of the success of modern medicine is indebted to a woman called Henrietta Lacks - who many people have never heard of before.

In 1955, she donated her cells for the purpose of research. The cells were used for many experiments, but especially for the purpose of growing new cells. Her cells are known as HeLa cels, and they have helped the development of cancer research, the polio vaccine, gene mapping and much more.

Sadly, she died unknown and penniless and without a tombstone. Even her own family was not aware of just how much she had contributed to medicine for many years to come.

Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study

28. Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study

Malaria is known worldwide as one of the deadliest diseases. And although we have a cure now, the illness is still very much able to take human lives if not treated properly.

However, the way that our cure developed was through human research. During World War II, the Malaria Project was developed in Illinois. Hundreds of volunteer inmates offered to be bitten by infected mosquitoes, so that doctors could monitor them and find a cure.

Sadly, a few people did die in the process, but the volunteers did actually help to develop a cure for Malaria which we still use today.

Zombie Dogs

29. Zombie Dogs

Bringing someone back from the dead has been a human dream for a very long time. However, whenever humans interfere with nature, it causes trouble and horrific experiments.

Dr. Sergei Brukhoneko and Boris Levinskovsky attempted to revive a severed dog head. An artificial blood circulation system was developed for the dog heads, which continuously pumped blood. Shockingly, the dog heads did respond by wiggling their ears, blinking, and even licking their mouths.

Bizarrely, the experiment was repeated in the U.S. in 2005 with the same results. The scientists in the U.S. were also able to bring the dog head back to life.

Let the Insect Inside

30. Let the Insect Inside

Scientists often go above and beyond for their experiments, but one particular scientist may have taken things a bit too far. One scientist in Madagascar was trying to learn more about the mating lives of fleas.

Fleas are a parasite, which enter the body of a warm-blooded animal and stay inside for as long as possible (usually forever). This scientist was so determined to discover the truth that she let the flea live inside her foot and reproduce - for months.

She did eventually discover what she was looking for, but it is incredible that someone would go to this length for the sake of a flea.