10 Unethical Psychological Experiments that will shock you!

People have a determination to solve the mystery of human behavior and thinking process. To understand how brain impulses, bring about changes in our overt behaviors, many psychological experiments have been done. In fact, too much curiosity can be dangerous for oneself and others around them. There are certain experiments that went too far and ended up harming the subjects.

1. Milgram’s Obedience Study

Stanley Milgram, a Yale professor, conducted a psychological experiment in 1960s. The advertisement in newspaper “men for a study on memory”.

There was a Learner, Teacher and Researcher in the experiment. The learner and teacher were paired; they drew lots that were already decided upon. A secretly hired actor played as the learner. They tied him in a room with one-way glass window. The actor acted like actually getting shocked.

The researcher instructed the teacher to administer a shock of 15 volts. The voltage level increased with every mistake to a maximum of almost 300 volts if the learner did not correctly answer to him.

The researcher ordered the teacher to continue if he felt reluctant to shock the learner anymore. Furthermore, the learner or the actor would ask the teacher to stop hurting them. Sometimes the actor even pretended to die from the shocks.

Almost 65% of the participants delivered 300 volts which can easily kill a person.

The result of the experiment had traumatic effects on the participants who were teachers and thought they have killed someone. No one told the participants the truth about the learners. Furthermore, Gina Perry says they bullied the participants into shocking learners. 


The study concluded that people often follow an authority figure obediently.  They do so too even if their own morals clash with the person of influence.

2. Bobo Doll Experiment

Albert Bandura conducted this experiment in 1960s. The subjects were young children. An adult man abused the doll both physically and verbally in front of the children. The children learned this behavior and considered it normal.

Later, they put the doll and the child alone in the room. Next, the child also abused the doll like the adult.

The outcome indicates a great number of children abused the doll. The study exploits the children and is unethical. They started to behave aggressively and even learned how to be aggressive.


Young minds easily accept anything, even if it’s wrong. The experiment normalized aggression and corrupted the innocence.

3. The Bystander Experiment

Latane and Darley studied this effect after the murder of Genovese. The people who witnessed her murder did not call the police or help her.

In this experiment, they put people in situations where they had to take liability and make the choice to help someone. At first, they put them in normal situations but then severe scenarios were introduced. In one of the observations, an actor pretended to have a seizure. None of the participants stepped up to help him.

However, when the person had a seizure with only one person in the room, that person was more likely to try and help the person in need.


People often don’t act and wait for someone else to decide. But when they know they’re alone, they have to decide.

4. The Stanford Prison Experiment

One of the most famous psychological experiments ever conducted is the Stanford prison experiment. The experiment escalated so much that they abruptly ended it after just 6 days.

The experiment studied the relationship between guards and prisoners, and why the authority is often misused.

24 males either became a guard or a prisoner. Soon, the guards started to torture the prisoners and set up very strict rules and punishments. However, most shockingly the prisoners accepted the abuse.

The torture left the prisoners and the guards traumatized.


Unchecked authority leads to violence and misuse that hurts others.

5. Good Samaritan Study

Princeton University invited 40 participants to give a speech on what is a Good Samaritan. However, on their way to the university, they encountered a person (an actor for the experiment) in pain and distress. Less than 50 % of the participants stopped to help them.

Moreover, another group of actors experienced severe seizure or heart attack. This time less than 10% people stopped to help them. It’s ironic that the people headed to give a speech about goodness were unwilling to help.


A person tends to be less empathetic when in a hurry or their mind is busy somewhere else.

6. Learned Helplessness Experiment

This unethical experiment used dogs and shocked them. He put the dogs inside a cage with two compartments. The dog in the lower part received shock. If it jumped to the higher compartment, he did not get shocked. Consequently, the dogs learned this and quickly jumped from lower to upper portion of the cage.

Later on, he took a leash and tied a group of dogs together. The dogs were unable to go to the upper portion. He repeated the experiment the next day, the dogs had learned helplessness and none of them made any effort to escape to the upper portion of the cage.


Humans and primates, alike, give up when they see think they cannot get out of the helpless situation.

7. Monster Study

In 1939, Wendell Johnson took 22 orphans and divided them into two groups. Both groups have some stutterers and some normal speakers.

First group received positive encouragement and speech therapy. They received praise for their improvement. Only one of the stutterer in this group improved.

Likewise, the second group was discouraged and told that they were not speaking well. Among this group five of the children worsened in speech. What’s more some stopped speaking altogether.

The study is considered unethical because it did more damage than help. It also developed more speech problems in children. Hence, they kept the results of the experiment hidden.


The way others treat us for expressing ourselves impacts our speech and behavior immensely. Thus, encouragement helped with the stuttering and discouragement worsened 3 of the stutterers.

8. Little Albert

John Watson, used a 9 months old orphan baby called Albert. He introduced to different soft and fluffy items, like monkeys, rabbits, and toys. Later on he introduced a little fluffy white mouse.  Already accustomed to similar things, Albert showed no fear of the mouse.

Watson added a new stimulus with the mouse, he produced very high banging and high pitched noises. This scared little albert.

He formed as association of white and fluffy things with loud, uncomfortable noises. Every time Watson introduced anything similar to the mouse, Albert responded with fear. It is unethical because it had adverse effects on the child’s mental health.


Fear is conditioned and associated.

9. Solomon Asch Conformity Test

Solomon Asch wanted to study if people are willing to change their views for acceptability.

He showed a group of people three lines and asked them to tell which one was the longest. Secrets actors played the role of rest of the class except the participant. They answered the first 2 questions correctly, but later on they all said the wrong answer.

Hence the participants, the only outlier in the class, also switched to the wrong answer.

Accordingly, from 50 participants, 37 conformed to the incorrect group.

The experiment is unethical because it deceived the participants and did so without their consent.


People tend to conform due to normativity and the need to fit in.

10. Harlow’s Monkey Experiment

Harlow separated new-born monkeys from their mothers. He could not use human infants, so to test the dependency he used monkeys.

He kept the monkeys in a cage with two parent figures. First was a cloth-molded into mother and second was the wire-molded mother.

The baby showed more attachment to the cloth mother which felt more soft and warm. The other wire mother provided the baby milk.

Even though the baby received food from the wire mother, he favored the cloth mother.

When Harlow introduced any scary stimulus to the baby monkey, it almost always ran towards the cloth mother for safety.

Finally, the cruelty and mistreatment of monkeys in this experiment resulted in its shut down.


Proper contact is necessary for any primate’s development. They have a need to form not only attachment but also bond of love.

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