Top 5 Unethical Psychological Experiments that Ended in Very Disturbing Results

Wonders of the human brain, with all its intelligent and emotional powers, have always attracted the brightest of humans. Many of the psychologists and neurologists have made great efforts to understand the human brain in order to understand and/or control human behavior. With the evolution of civilization, the extent at which the scientists go in their experiments, have now become very human.

However, many of the experiments still fall under the completely inhumane, unethical, and immoral area. We’ve compiled a list of the 10 most bizarre, unethical, and inhumane psychological experiment that went horribly wrong and ended up with disastrous results.

1. Tony LaMadrid



This University of California study asked the participants who were schizophrenics to stop taking medicine. The result of the program was devastating when almost all the participant patients relapsed into the mental illness and one participant committed suicide.

Tony LaMadrid, a 23-year-old male with a history of depression and schizophrenia, was being treated for the same at the UCLA Medical Center Psychiatric Department from 1985 to 1989. During that time, he was both a patient and an active participant in a psychiatric study approved by the university. This study, “Developmental Processes in Schizophrenic Disorders,” was directed by psychologist Keith H. Nuechterlein with psychiatrist Michael Gitlin, and its aim was to gather data on the how and why of schizophrenic relapses.

This experiment required patients to get off the medicines to evaluate effects of the medicine on the patients, on the non-patients, and on the way the brain works. The experiment vaguely listed the potential negative side effects of the removal of medicine by mentioning that the patient’s condition may improve, worsen, or remain unchanged. However, the exact nature of the potential relapse was unspecified.

The patients undergoing the treatment and consequent experiment responded very negatively to the experiment. The result of the experiment was disastrous when more than 90% of the patients experienced very severe relapses over the course of the experiment. The experiment was also contaminated by many of the patients who resented being on medication often lying about the effects of the experiment on them. The experimenters never reinstated the medication nor did they delve deeper into the lives of the victims for further investigation. About six years into the experiment, Tony committed suicide by jumping off a building.

2. Project QKHILLTOP



Another CIA project from the 50s that aimed to study Chinese brainwashing techniques which they then used to develop new methods of interrogation. The participants were subjected to “chemical, biological, and radiological” means for mind control in addition to imprisonment, deprivation, humiliation, torture, brainwashing, and hypnoses during the project.

In 1954, the CIA initiated a project named QKHILLTOP aimed to study Chinese brainwashing techniques and to develop effective methods of interrogation. Most of these studies were performed by the Cornell University Medical School’s human ecology study programs under the supervision of the director Dr. Harold Wolff. Dr. Wolff asked the CIA to provide him any information they could find regarding threats, coercion, imprisonment, deprivation, humiliation, torture, “brainwashing,” “black psychiatry,” and hypnosis, or any combination of these, with or without chemical agents.

The research team would then assemble, collate, analyze, and assimilate this information and then undertake experimental investigations designed to develop new techniques of offensive/defensive intelligence use. He also asked for “suitable subjects” (Human beings) on whom his team could try this information and techniques. These techniques often involved secret drugs and various brain-damaging procedures. And to conduct these experiments, in addition to the subjects, he also asked for a proper place.

The results were so devastating that one author calls the CIA researchers “a bunch of bumbling sci-fi buffoons,” rather than a rational group of men who had run torture laboratories and medical experiments in major US universities. These experiments which involved torture, rape, and psychological abuse of adults and young children resulted in many of these participants becoming permanently insane.

3. Emma Eckstein and Sigmund Freud




German doctor Freud treated patient Emma for hysteria and excessive masturbation even though Emma asked for help with vague symptoms like stomach ailments and mild depression. He performed a radical surgery on Emma with just a local anesthetic and cocaine. When the surgery turned out to be disastrous, Freud fled from the remedial surgery in horror.

At the age of 27, Emma Eckstein went to Dr. Sigmund Freud for stomach ailments and slight depression. Freud diagnosed Emma as suffering from hysteria and believed that she masturbated to excess. Since masturbation was considered as a dangerous mental illness in those days, Freud started a three-year-long psychoanalysis treatment of Emma.

Even though Emma proved to be a leading factor in major theories of Freud, including “Psychopathology,” “theory of deferred action,” and “the wish theory of psychosis and dreams,” it was Freud’s obsession with operating on Emma’s nose and sinuses to treat nasal reflex neurosis was what resulted in disaster. Since Freud believed that Emma’s habitual masturbation caused severe leg pain, and since he believed that the tissue of the nose and genitalia were linked, it can be cured by removing the middle turbinate.

Freud performed a disturbing experimental surgery with Dr. Wilhelm Fliess on Emma in which she was anesthetized with only a local anesthetic and cocaine before the inside of her nose was cauterized. The surgery proved to be a disaster resulting in profuse, recurrent nasal bleeding.

Freud left a half-meter of gauze in Emma’s nasal cavity and the procedure of removing that gauze left Emma permanently disfigured. During this disastrous operation, Freud fled from the remedial surgery in horror.

Freud later concluded that Emma’s postoperative hemorrhages were hysterical “wish-bleedings” linked to “an old wish to be loved in her illness” and triggered as a means of “re-arousing [Freud’s] affection.” However, Emma continued her analysis with Freud until she was restored to full mobility and went on to practice psychoanalysis herself.

4. Electroshock Therapy on Children

Dr. Lauretta Bender of New York’s Creedmoor Hospital employed electroconvulsive therapy for children with social issues. In this treatment which was performed on more than 100 children, they administered electroshock therapy to the patients every day for a total of twenty treatments. The children ended up being more anxious and were also observed to develop visual body distortion as the result of the test.

In the ’50s and ’60s, the head of children’s psychiatry at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, Lauretta Bender, started conducting extensive research on autism. She believed that autism is a type of schizophrenia and was often one of the first signs. For further research, she started experiments on the autistic kids where she administered electroconvulsive therapy to autistic patients. Bender’s methods included interviewing and analyzing a sensitive child in front of a large group, then applying a gentle amount of pressure to the child’s head. Supposedly, any child who moved with the pressure was showing early signs of schizophrenia.

The experiments also included insulin-shock therapy where they gave the kids overdoses of insulin that put them into a short-term coma. She also gave the kid patients antipsychotic drugs like Thorazine. She also tried giving autistic kids LSD every day for nine months or more.

But decided they were becoming “more anxious.” By the time this therapy was stopped, Bender administered electroconvulsive therapy to at least 100 children ranging in age from three years old to 12 years, with some reports indicating the total may be twice that number.

The results of these experiments were as shocking as the therapy itself. The condition of the children only worsened after the therapy. One six-year-old child went from being a shy, withdrawn child to acting increasingly aggressive and violent. A seven-year-old girl after five electroshock sessions became nearly catatonic. One of the Bender’s patients who became overly aggressive after about 20 such treatments was convicted for multiple murders later in adult life.

Many other patients in their adulthood were reportedly in and of trouble and prison for a battery of petty and violent crimes. Two psychologists who conducted a study on the 50 of Bender’s young electroshock patients, concluded that nearly all patients were worse off after the “therapy” and some had become suicidal after the treatment.

5. Sexual Reassignment




David Reimer, a Canadian boy, became the victim of a circumcision process accident when he was only seven months old in which his penis was destroyed. Dr. John Money persuaded the baby’s parents that sex reassignment surgery would be in Reimer’s best interest. The end result of the project was that in addition to his difficult lifelong relationship with his parents, other psychological issues, and unemployment, David took his own life by shooting himself.

In 1965, David (who was originally named Bruce) and Brian, two identical twin brothers, were born in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Six months later, the boys were diagnosed with phimosis. When they were referred for circumcision at the age of seven months in 1966, a urologist performed the operation on Bruce using the unconventional cauterization method. The procedure failed burning Bruce’s penis beyond repair. Doctors then chose not to operate on the twin Brian who was lucky enough to have his phimosis cleared later without surgery.

Parents who were concerned about Bruce’s future happiness and sexual function without a penis took him to Dr. John Money at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in 1967. Money was a psychologist and a pioneer in the field of sexual development and gender identity. He was the proponent of the “theory of gender neutrality”- that gender identity developed primarily as a result of social learning from childhood and that it could be changed with appropriate behavioral interventions.

Money and team persuaded Bruce’s parents that “sex reassignment surgery” would be in his best interest. At the age of 22 months, Bruce underwent a bilateral orchiectomy in which his testicles were surgically removed and a rudimentary vulva was fashioned. Bruce was reassigned to be raised as a female and was given the name Brenda. Money provided psychological support for the reassignment and continued to see him for about a decade for the consultation and to assess the outcome.

The results, according to Money himself, were very positive, however, during the once-a-year visit to Money, Bruce’s parents often lied about the success of the procedure and Bruce had experienced the visits to Baltimore as traumatic rather than therapeutic.

Bruce didn’t identify as a girl. He was ostracized and bullied by peers. He did not feel like a female even with the fancy dresses and female hormones. By the age of 13, Bruce became suicidal and threaten to take his own life if he was made to see Money again. On May 4, 2004, Bruce drove to a grocery store’s parking lot in his hometown of Winnipeg and took his own life by shooting himself in the head with a sawed-off shotgun at the age of 38 years.


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