In the name of science. For global recognition. To feed some innate, unnatural curiosity. Whatever the reason, these studies pushed the boundaries of curiosity and ethics. Join us as we explore the unconventional, the eyebrow-raising, and the downright weirdest science experiments that have left their mark on scientific history.
1. The Monster Study
In Davenport, Iowa, 1939 Wendell Johnson conducted “The Monster Study” to investigate the causes of stuttering. He subjected 22 orphan children to negative speech therapy, intentionally causing speech disorders. The experiment sparked ethical debates and, just like a spokesman for the University of Iowa said, “…this is a study that should never be considered defensible in any era.”
2. The Stanford Prison Experiment
In 1971, Philip Zimbardo started the Stanford Prison Experiment, where college students played the roles of guards and prisoners in a simulated prison environment. The experiment spiraled into chaos, revealing how quickly people can adopt roles and behaviors, prompting Zimbardo to cancel the experiment after only six days. Conclusion: people will quickly fall into the role they’re expected to play.
3. The Milgram Experiment
Stanley Milgram’s 1961 experiment aimed to study obedience to authority. Participants were asked to administer electric shocks to a person in another room, believing they were causing real pain. The results highlighted the power of authority figures and the potential for people like you and me to commit harmful actions.
4. The Head Transplant Experiment
Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero proposed the idea of head transplantation, or “HEAVEN” (Head Anastomosis Venture). Although not fully realized, the concept stirred controversy and skepticism, as it raised ethical, technical, and practical concerns about the transplantation of an entire human head. Now he’s determined to get billionaires ‘like Mark Zuckerberg’ to fund his experiment.
5. The Little Albert Experiment
John B. Watson and Rosalie Rayner conducted the Little Albert Experiment in 1920, where they conditioned a baby (Albert) to fear a white rat by pairing it with a loud noise. They faced criticism for causing lasting psychological harm as they failed to decondition Albert of the same stimuli they’ve introduced. Unfortunately little Albert, or by his real name Douglas Merritte, died at the age of six on May 10, 1925, of hydrocephalus, a condition which caused fluid build-up in the brain. He had suffered from this condition since birth meaning he was under tremendous stress during the experiment.
6. The Aversion Project
During apartheid in South Africa, the Aversion Project aimed to “cure” homosexuality in the military. Medical procedures, including chemical castration and electroshock therapy, were used to attempt to change sexual orientation, resulting in lasting trauma for the participants.
7. The Robbers Cave Experiment
Muzafer Sherif’s Robbers Cave Experiment aimed to study intergroup conflict and cooperation by dividing boys into two groups at a summer camp. The experiment was marred by controversy, from the fact that both the parents and the kids were kept in the dark, so no consent was given. There were moments when the boys were in serious conditions that could have escalated quickly.
8. The Cat Telephone Experiment
Physiologist Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose conducted this experiment in the early 20th century. He connected a cat’s auditory nerve to a telephone receiver, managing to transform the cat into a real life telephone located 50 feet away. This was a tough one, especially for cat lovers, but this provided studying ground for cochlear implants.
9. The Elephant On Acid Experiment
Back on August 3, 1962, some folks from the University of Oklahoma thought it was a good idea to give this poor elephant a whopping 297 mg of LSD, which is like, three thousand times what a human might take for a wild trip. Well, let’s just say, within five minutes, the big guy went down like a ton of bricks, and sadly, about an hour later, he was dead.
10. The Acoustic Kitty Project
In the 1960s, the CIA attempted to train a cat as a covert listening device. The “Acoustic Kitty” project involved surgically implanting microphones and transmitters in a cat, but their first and only attempt went south quickly. During the first mission the cat was hit and killed by a taxi while crossing the road.
11. Demikhov’s Two-Headed Dogs Experiment
This was like something out of a sci-fi flick. Back in the 1950s, this Soviet scientist named Vladimir Demikhov went all Dr. Frankenstein and stitched together two dogs, two heads, one body. The idea was to study organ transplantation and survival. But, you guessed it, it was a real horror show. Most of the poor doggos didn’t make it, and it’s now considered a pretty dark chapter in the history of science.
12. Sergei Brukhonenko’s Dog Experiment
Another dog experiment with a soviet scientist pushing the buttons. In 1939 he decided to see if he could keep a dog’s head alive separately from its body. So, he hooked up the head to some crazy contraption called an autojektor. This gizmo pumped oxygenated blood into the severed head, and guess what? It worked, kinda. The dog’s head blinked, ate, and even responded to stimuli.
13. The Monkey Drug Trials
Another wild ride in the name of science! In the 1960s researchers got curious about what would happen if they gave monkeys a bunch of drugs, including LSD, PCP, and amphetamines. Animals endured distress, frequently breaking limbs while attempting to escape. No one was surprised with their conclusion: they linked human-like biology in animals to drug abuse, highlighting psychological dependence.
14. The Carney Landis Experiment
This was a super bizarre psychology stunt from the 1920s. This guy, Carney Landis, brought in a bunch of college students and had them do some wacky stuff. They had to smell ammonia (yikes!) and then dunk their hands into a bucket of frogs (double yikes!). But the real kicker was when Landis had them chop off a live rat’s head (triple yikes!). He wanted to see their facial expressions during all this craziness. Turns out, people make some seriously weird faces when they’re grossed out or disturbed, who would have thought?! The experiment was kinda disturbing itself and sparked lots of ethical debates.
15. Stubbins Ffirth’s Experiment
This was one heck of a stomach-churning investigation in the early 19th century. Ffirth was convinced that yellow fever wasn’t contagious, so he went all in to prove his point. He smeared himself with the vomit, blood, and sweat of yellow fever patients, and even drank a bit of it (yikes, right?). Surprisingly, he didn’t get sick! But here’s the twist: his methods were risky and didn’t prove much. We now know yellow fever is transmitted by mosquitoes, not human fluids. So, while Ffirth’s experiment was gutsy, it was also kinda gross and didn’t give us the right answers.
16. Montreal Experiments
What started as a race to find a cure for schizophrenia went horribly wrong in the end. He used electroconvulsive therapy and experimental drugs, poisons and hallucinogens. The patients and prisoners had no idea what was happening, being left with amnesia and having to relearn some of the most basic skills.
17. The Werner Theodor Otto Forssmann Self-experiment
He was one brave doctor, we’ll give him that. He thought it was a bright idea to, get this, insert a catheter into his own heart through his arm! Yep, he basically pioneered cardiac catheterization by taking a gamble on himself. He used a mirror and some local anesthesia to pull off this crazy stunt. And guess what? It worked! He proved that you could safely thread a catheter into the heart. His bold experiment revolutionized cardiology, helping doctors diagnose and treat heart problems.
Recommended reading next: The 10 Weirdest Mysteries That Are Unsolved From Around The World
As we wrap up our tour of the weirdest science experiments, one thing is crystal clear: the pursuit of knowledge knows no bounds. These unconventional studies have expanded the horizons of human understanding, some of them proving that in the world of science, weirdness often leads to groundbreaking discoveries. While some of them were just unethical.