25 Incredibly Disturbing Science Experiments In History

Posted by , Updated on May 24, 2024

There are all kinds of unnerving science experiments out there. Some psychological studies are disturbing and scary as they expose unsettling facets of human nature. Additionally, there are other experiments that are creepy due to their intrinsic unethical nature.

Quite often human experiments have been excessively brutal and violent. So be warned, the word “creepy” may be an understatement for some of the experiments on this list. Nonetheless, these are the 25 Incredibly Disturbing Science Experiments In History.



Neuromarketing Experiments

brainSource: forbes.com

Basically, the field of neuromarketing involves studying the brains of subjects and creating advertisements or marketing that are biologically guaranteed to work. Sound creepy? Well everybody is doing it. Every company from Google to Frito-Lay invests in this type of research. Note: there is still some debate as to its effectiveness.


The UCLA Schizophrenia Study

medicinesSource: nytimes.com

When researchers took schizophrenic patients off of their regular medications, they were instructed to put them right back on if their symptoms significantly worsened. Apparently the term “significantly” is rather subjective. One patient threatened to kill his parents and another (Tony Lamadrid) jumped off a building.


The Eye Color Experiment

eyesSource: smithsonianmag.com

After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, a schoolteacher named Jane Elliot decided to teach her students about discrimination. She divided them into two groups – blue eyes and brown eyes. She told the class that blue-eyed students were superior and sat the brown-eyed children in the back.

The blue-eyed group got all-around preferential treatment (more food at lunch, more playtime, etc). Although it isn’t too surprising today, back then the results of this “experiment” were surprising…the brown-eyed kids actually started performing worse in school. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.


The Three Christs of Ypsilanti

psych wardSource: theguardian.com

Milton Rokeach performed a study where he brought together three psychiatric patients, all of whom claimed to be God. At first, the men argued about who was holier and almost beat each other up. But after a while, each of them accepted that the other two were just crazy.



Soviet UnionSource: wsj.com

Meaning “chamber” in Russian, this was an infamous Soviet research facility that subjected people to highly poisonous substances. Witnesses have described the effects of vicious poisons such as K-2. Victims would actually physically shrink and then die after a few minutes. The crazy part? K-2 is completely undetectable. And even crazier? The Kamera was allegedly re-opened in the ’90s.


North Korea

North KoreaSource: dw.com

The English language fails us as the word “creepy” seems to fall unfathomably far from sufficiency. The North Korean government is known for some insanely inhuman experiments including surgery without anesthesia and suffocation in gas chambers. In fact, one person testified before US Congress that he witnessed a family of four (parents, son, and daughter) suffocate to death in a chamber. The parents apparently tried to perform mouth to mouth resuscitation on their children for as long as they could.


Project MK-ULTRA

CIASource: theguardian.com

The aim of this CIA experiment was to see if mind control could be weaponized. How did they go about doing this? By injecting prostitutes with LSD. We’re not even joking.


Tuskegee Syphilis Study

TuskegeeSource: cdc.gov

Best described as infuriating, the government basically told a bunch of African American males with syphilis that they would be receiving free healthcare for life. Instead, they weren’t given any treatment but were rather monitored over the course of their lifetime. The study was eventually ended thanks to a whistleblower.


Pavlov’s Orphan Experiments

PavlovSource: newyorker.com

We all know how Pavlov conditioned dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. Well, Pavlov did the same with orphans. The problem with orphans, however, is that they are less agreeable, so he strapped them down and force-fed them.


Free Will

freeSource: bbc.com

Brain imaging experiments performed by Benjamin Libet showed that all of our decisions are preceded by subconscious factors in the brain that affect the outcome of our decision. Although still controversial, there is something a bit creepy about not having free will. This would mean that everything you do has already been pre-determined.


Mengele’s Twin Studies

concentration campSource: bbc.com

Dr. Mengele is the definition of an evil scientist. A Nazi researcher, he had a thing for twins. Why? Because he could perform all sorts of crazy experiments on one while using the other as a control.



watchSource: wired.com

In 2010, social psychologist Daryl Bem published a study in which he claimed to show that people’s choices were affected by events in the future. He followed the classic priming approach where a subject is “conditioned” to choose a certain response. The interesting part? He included his “primers,” or conditioning factors after the participants had made their choice. According to his study, the participants’ choices were affected by the primers that followed them. Note: as crazy as these results are, there is still controversy surrounding the methods.


Lost in The Mall

brainSource: psychologistworld.com

In the ’90s, psychologists Elizabeth Loftus, James Coan, and Jacqueline Pickrell successfully implanted fake memories into the minds of participants by talking about the fake memories in between true memories. Their memories of choice were being lost in the mall and meeting Bugs Bunny at Disneyland. Although having fake memories implanted is somewhat creepy, this research has sent massive waves through the psychology community. It casts serious doubt on human memory and eyewitness testimony. In fact, other research has shown that our memories are notoriously unreliable. And to really creep you out…the majority of what you remember is wrong to some extent. Furthermore, every time you access a memory, it becomes even more corrupted.


Nazi Freezing Experiments

concentration campSource: bbc.com

Yet again, the word “creepy” doesn’t do justice to the situation. A lot of what we know about conditions like hypothermia is actually because of highly unethical Nazi medical experiments. The Nazi researchers dunked prisoners in freezing water for various lengths of time. They also left them outside in the freezing cold and tried re-warming them (many times in very inhumane ways).


David Reimer

male femaleSource: slate.com

Born in Canada, David and his twin were recommended for circumcisions due to urinary problems. Although his brother, Brian, had a successful operation, David’s was botched. After consulting with doctors, the parents decided to raise David as a girl since his genitalia was so damaged.

He received hormone injections and therapy sessions. Until the age of 14, David thought he was a girl named Brenda. The crazy part here is that the psychologist responsible for this advice, John Money, only wanted to use David as an experiment to prove that gender is due to nurture and not nature (he never told the parents his true intentions).

David never quite felt like a girl, and at 14, his parents told him the truth. He immediately went back to being male. He took the name “David,” received injections of testosterone, a mastectomy, and a phalloplasty. Unfortunately, the ordeal ruined David and his family. His relationship with his parents was strained, his brother was depressed, and David eventually committed suicide.


Pit of Despair

Harry HarlowSource: pages.uoregon.edu

Harry Harlow wasn’t exactly known for his empathy. This researcher basically gave birth to the animal rights movement in response to his crazy experiments. He separated baby monkeys from their mothers and kept them in isolation for up to a year. Many of the monkeys went crazy and never recovered.


The Facial Expressions Experiment

knifeSource: madsciencemuseum.com

In 1924, a psychology student named Carney Landis performed a crazy experiment at the University of Minnesota. He basically painted lines on the faces of the participants in order to record their facial expressions in reaction to various stimuli (smelling ammonia, looking at various images, etc). The final bit, however, was where the insanity began. He gave the participants a rat and asked them to behead it. Although nobody liked the idea, a third of the participants actually did it. For the other two thirds, he picked up the knife and did it himself.


Monkey Drug Trials

monkeysSource: garfield.library.upenn.edu

Conducted in 1969 by Deneau, Yanagita & Seevers, the researchers basically gave drugs to monkeys (everything from cocaine to alcohol). Although you may have expected the monkeys to go a little crazy…they went absolutely insane. Some of them tore off their own fingers or ripped out all of their hair.


The Aversion Project

soldiersSource: theguardian.com

Once again, “creepy” is too light of a term here, but during the ’70s and ’80s, the military in South Africa tried to convert gay recruits by castration and other methods. The psychiatrist who oversaw the experiments, Dr. Aubrey Levin, then moved to Canada where he practiced until recently (he was convicted for sexual abuse).


The Monster Study

speechSource: nytimes.com

In 1939, Wendell Johnson performed this experiment at the University of Iowa. He basically separated orphans into two groups. He gave positive speech therapy to half the children (praising their fluency) and negative speech therapy to the other half (telling them they stuttered, couldn’t speak well, etc). The orphans in the negative group developed self-esteem problems that lasted into adulthood. In fact, some of them even developed actual problems with their speech. This experiment was labeled the “Monster Experiment” because his colleagues couldn’t believe that Johnson would experiment on orphans like this.


Little Albert

Little AlbertSource: apa.org

In the 1920s, researchers at John Hopkins introduced furry animals to an infant named Albert. He seemed to be curious and enjoyed playing with them. Then, the researchers conditioned Albert to dislike the animals by loudly striking hammers whenever they appeared. Unfortunately, Little Albert died of unrelated causes when he was only 6. But he never did enjoy furry animals again in his short lifetime.


The Bystander Effect

smokeSource: radiation-bystander.columbia.edu

In the 1960s, researchers at Columbia University conducted experiments to better understand why a group of people was less likely to help someone in distress than an individual. They placed participants in a room and gradually filled it with smoke. Sure enough, when there was only one person in the room, they reported the smoke almost immediately. When there was more than one…it took a while.

Note: this is because each person assumes that somebody else will do something or that everything is okay because nobody else is doing anything.


Stanford Prison Experiment

Stanford Prison ExperimentSource: prisonexp.org

Another famously unethical experiment, in 1971 Philip Zimbardo performed an experiment where half the participants were guards and the other half were prisoners. After just a few days, the guards had turned into the sadistic abusers and the prisoners had all become depressed.


Unit 731

Unit 731Source: mtholyoke.edu

It has been said before, but “creepy” is a massively insufficient adjective to describe what happened here. Prisoners of war at this covert Japanese research facility were experimented on in unthinkable ways. They were blown up, cut to pieces, frozen, and used to test weapons.


The Milgram Experiment

shockSource: simplypsychology.com

Psychologist Stanley Milgram wanted to know how so many people could have been complicit with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. He conducted experiments where an “official” would instruct participants to administer electric shocks to a person (actor) in another room by pressing a button. The shocks increased in power (as did the screams) until the screams ceased. In fact, had the shocks been real…almost every participant would have killed the actor.

And to make it worse, the actors often pleaded for the shocks to stop. Note: this study is famous for showing that, given the right circumstances, we are all capable of unspeakable atrocities.

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