10 Psychology Studies Gone Horribly Wrong

My friend just sent me this article, “10 Psychology Studies Gone Horribly Wrong.” As psychology students, we are probably familiar with most of the experiments already. If you consider them individually, each inspires its own questions on motivations and emotions involved (for example: Why did Milner’s participants continue? Do monkeys feel loneliness?)

Taken together, I think that the most meaningful inferrence that we can make of the studies is that science has a power to unintentionally affect and manipulate emotions, even to an extent that it devastates an individual — in some cases, causing them to commit suicide. I know some students in the psychology program at Centre College, myself included, are considering attending grad school and might be designing our own experiments with human subjects one day. The mistakes of the scientific community in the past serve as a reminder to be aware of the emotional impact on participants as one constructs studies, and if an experiment turns out to be harmful, terminate it before it causes more harm.

4 thoughts on “10 Psychology Studies Gone Horribly Wrong

  1. The only beneficial thing to come out of those horrible studies was an increased awareness on participant wellbeing. The only reason IRBs exist today was because of studies that went horribly wrong. Although it was clear that these studies could psychologically, physically, and emotionally damage the participant, it is often surprising what could be considered unethical nowadays. Some situations you would never have thought of as being an “at risk” study.

    On a different note, the Stanford Experiment goes along well with the discussion on the need for power we had a couple weeks (one week?) back. The students who were placed as wardens immediately took on the role. Also, as the study progressed, the “wardens” took more power into their own hands and got more agressive. I understand everyone’s need for power to feel sufficient, but it looks like power can sometimes act as a drug. Once you get a small dose of it you’ll keep wanting more and more.

  2. If there’s one good thing we can take from these unethical studies it’s the awareness that emotional well-being is an extremely important part of wellness. Emotional dysfunction can lead not only to self-inflicted harm such suicide, but also unintended physical harm. In the Stanford study, which I’m sure most of you have read about in other psychology classes, the men appointed as prisoners began to suffer from health issues related to their negative affect. These health problems included suppressed immune response, heart palpitations, and weight loss.

  3. My first thought is, “thank god for IRB’s!” These experiments just reinforce our need for them. I don’t feel that these experiments were malicious in intent; just simply run by individuals that did not know the potential (or likely) negative ramifications of their experiments. IRBs serve an important role in protecting experiment participants for potential psychological and physical damage.

  4. Yeah ethics is complicated and all, being bad is evil, and we probably shouldn’t ruin kids’ lives; but am I the only one here who feels the slightest tear at or objection to the idea that the “Milgram Experiment” should be on this top ten list? I mean, yes, there was a serious possibility of trauma to be experienced by the participants, but in hindsight I don’t think the participants responded negatively, the article doesn’t even say a word about a negative effect. Usually the article mentioned those, but the only substitution here is the discovery that regular people are more inclined to be commanded into genocide than we thought–and didn’t we learn something really, really important with this one? The human mind appears to be consistently vulnerable to delusion in all forms but when we learn something we don’t like, shouldn’t we scientists be a little more resistant to that? I don’t know, I’m probably not the only person who feels this way.

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