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These Mental Experiments Are Considered Unethical Today

Have you ever heard a sound and associated it to a particular thing or image? Have you ever thought that a physical feature could be a determinant of whether people belong to a superior group or an inferior one? These are just some of the questions that popped into the heads of early psychologists, promoting many studies about human behavior and how they think in various situations. 

Man has developed an interest in behavior and has conducted research to test the limits and condition the mind. Psychological Associations from all over the world have a code of conduct to guide the experiments they conduct. They must follow certain rules that vary from being confidential to consensus participation of the participants. The code of ethics was established to protect the participants and ensure that they do not suffer irreversible effects caused by the experiments.

[su_quote class=”cust-pagination”] “Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.”  Potter Stewart [/su_quote]

Here are some unethical experiments conducted in the past:

 The Boy Who Was Raised As A Girl

David Reimer was a Canadian boy whose life was changed by a Hopkins University professor, John Money. Money was a professor of medical psychology and pediatrics. He coined the  “gender neutrality” theory, which suggests that gender identity is learned from a young age.

A botched circumcision procedure left the boy with a disfigured and damaged genital at the age of six. His parents had decided to take him to John Money, and the professor suggested that since his penis could not be repaired, he should undergo a gender-confirmation surgery and be raised as part of the female population.

Reimer began the treatment in 1967, which would turn him into “Brenda”. Despite the visits he made for over ten years, the boy never really felt that he was female. At the age of 14, he reverted to a boy. The ongoing experiment caused him a great depression and pushed him over the edge. In 2004, David Reimer committed suicide.


Once a prominent subject of research in many universities, aversion therapy was thought to “cure” same gender preference.

M.P.Feldman and M.J. MacCulloch carried out the study at Crumpsall Hospital in Manchester, U.K. It involved 43 gay participants, all of whom were men, and was published in British Medical Journal in 1967. Participants were shown slides of men, which they were told to look at for as long as they deemed them attractive. Electric shocks were given to the test subjects after 8 seconds. Slides of women were also shown to them, this time without any punishment.

Researchers suggested that the trials were successful in ”curing” the participants, but the American Psychological Association deemed the experiment not only ineffective but also dangerous.


In the 1960s, Albert Bandura, a Stanford University psychologist, demonstrated that a violent behavior could be learned through observation of reward and punishment. This experiment was done with a large inflatable toy known as Bobo doll and 72 nursery-age children

A set of those children were made to watch an adult being abused violently both verbally and physically for ten minutes. Most children of the subset alarmingly displayed an imitation of what the adult did to the doll. The children became physically aggressive and charged against the doll when left alone in the room. Their aggressive behaviors were frightening, given their age.

Bandura repeated the same experiment in 1963, and the results were the same. The experiments came under fire due to the unethical issues; they were interpreted as training the kids to act aggressively, and could lead to long-term effects. 


Back in 1920, things were different because you could just take away a baby and put it in an experiment, and this is what John B. Watson did. John B. Watson was an American psychologist at John Hopkins University who was interested in learning the possibility of conditioning a child to develop a fear of something ordinary.

He borrowed an 8-month old baby named Albert to conduct an experiment on him. A white rat was introduced to the child; it did not scare him, of course. The next time he presented the rat, it came with a loud noise. He did this until the child couldn’t see the rat without bursting into tears.

The psychologist gave baby Albert a phobia and even went further to distressing the infant with a rabbit, a dog, and a furry white beard of “Santa”. That’s pretty unethical given the multiple phobias the child developed.


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