ua en ru

Most cruel and unethical experiments on humans

Most cruel and unethical experiments on humans Most cruel and unethical experiments on humans (Getty Images)

Scientists must adhere to strict ethical standards in modern research, obtaining informed consent from participants in any experiments. But the history of psychology and science, in fact, has horrific examples of unethical and simply terrible experiments on humans.

RBC-Ukraine tells about the most unethical and cruel experiments conducted on people for the sake of science.

To prepare the story, the following sources were used: Grunge, Live Science, MicroHealth, and Wikipedia.

Unit 731

Unit 731 is a notorious special unit of the Japanese army (established in 1932) that engaged in terrifying research in the field of biological, including entomological (using insects), weapons.

It conducted experiments on humans and carried out mass killings of the Chinese population.

By the end of World War II, this unit had a strength of 3,000 people and was stationed in the occupied territory of China near the town of Pingfan in the Binyang province (now Bin County in Heilongjiang Province), 20 kilometers south of Harbin.

The unit had its own aviation unit and was officially called the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantany Army.

As part of secret research, Chinese prisoners were subjected to inhumane experiments, including vivisections (dissections and other operations performed on live people) to study internal organs before death.

The unit's victims underwent tests for frostbite, limb amputation for experimental purposes, starvation, dehydration, and exposure to deadly conditions such as lethal pressure and radiation.

Flamethrowers, bayonets, nerve-paralyzing substances, and X-ray radiation were used on the subjects.

Thousands of people died as a result of these inhumane experiments, although the exact number remains unknown.

Tuskegee Syphilis Study

For forty years, between 1932 and 1972, the United States Public Health Service conducted inhumane research on "treating" syphilis in African Americans.

The experiment took place in Tuskegee, Alabama. Essentially, its purpose was to observe people suffering from syphilis.

Approximately 400 African Americans were told they were receiving treatment for some illness (although they were not told the diagnosis).

Many of the subjects did indeed have syphilis prior to the experiment, but others were infected during the process. Instead of providing treatment, they were given placebos and their disease was observed.

The experiment's victims suffered from blindness, insanity, and death, all due to being denied access to treatment.

Even when penicillin became available in 1947, the doctors still refused to treat the patients, believing that their experiment was more important than human lives.

As a result, only 74 people survived.

The Tuskegee research still leads many African Americans (U.S. citizens) to distrust official medicine.

Monster Study

In 1939, psychologist Wendell Johnson from the University of Iowa and his graduate student, Mary Tudor, conducted a psychological experiment that was later called Monster Study.

Within the project, 22 orphan children from Davenport were divided into two groups.

In the first group, experimenters praised the participants for their pronunciation, encouraged them to speak and read aloud, and told them how clean and proper their speech was.

These children made noticeable progress in their speech, displayed activity and sociability, and were open to communication.

In the second group, children were ridiculed very harshly. Experimenters pointed out the smallest pronunciation imperfections, called them pathetic stammerers, and in various ways convinced them that they were better off remaining silent than speaking so terribly.

Over time, children in the second group became increasingly quiet, lacking self-confidence, and introverted. Most of them started to stutter, even though they had never had speech problems before.

Information about this experiment was kept hidden for a long time, as even the researchers themselves were affected by its consequences.

Later, Tudor returned to the institution three more times to try to rectify the damage done to the children, but she was unsuccessful—the changes were irreversible.

Aversion Project

In the 20th century, South African military personnel attempted to conduct a "cleansing" and "curing" of gay soldiers from their sexual orientation using horrific methods.

People with different sexual orientations were recognized as having "psychological disorders" and subjected to aversion therapy, including electroshock "treatment." Chemical castration, hormone therapy, and unwanted gender reassignment surgeries were conducted on thousands of people.

Armed guards patrolled hospitals, while drugs, including Valium and the infamous "truth serum," were liberally administered to subjects.

The exact number of victims is unknown, as the operation was kept completely secret for a long time. Later estimates revealed that this project harmed at least 1,000 people aged 16 to 24.

When the project was closed, its leader, Dr. Aubrey Levin, admitted his failure but not the violation of human rights.

Project 4.1

In the middle of the 20th century, the world actively experimented with nuclear weapons. The USSR often organized nuclear test sites in the north, while the U.S. conducted tests in the ocean or on islands. The Marshall Islands, in particular, unintentionally became a laboratory for testing American nuclear weapons. They witnessed the unforeseen consequences of reckless experiments.

The infamous Project 4.1 was officially known as Study of Response of Human Beings exposed to Significant Beta and Gamma Radiation due to Fall-out from High-Yield Weapons.

As part of this study in 1954, local residents, people who suffered from radioactive fallout, became the subjects.

The true purpose of this experiment remained unknown to anyone, as the island's population was deprived of any essential information. People were simply treated for seemingly unknown illnesses.

In reality, it was about the consequences of radiation poisoning, specifically congenital defects.

Instead of evacuating the population and providing medical assistance, the authorities decided to observe what would happen.

Doctors monitored the situation until 1974. They noted, among other things, a significant increase in oncological diseases and child mortality. Ultimately, these observations were deemed unethical, and the Department of Energy issued official apologies.

Nazi experiments on twins

Some refer to the atrocities committed by the Nazis during World War II as medical experiments.

Such experiments on twin children in concentration camps were conducted to discover similarities and differences in their genetics.

The chief perpetrator of these brutal experiments was Josef Mengele, known as the Angel of Death. Between 1943 and 1944, he conducted experiments on nearly 1,500 pairs of imprisoned twins in Auschwitz. Only around 200 of them survived.

The twins were divided by age and gender and kept in barracks. The experiments included amputations, the infection of various diseases, injection of dyes into their eyes (to test if eye color could be changed), among other horrific procedures.

These abuses often ended in extreme pain, infection, temporary or permanent blindness.

Mengele also attempted to artificially create "conjoined twins" by sewing two children together. This resulted in gangrene and, ultimately, death.

Often, one twin was subjected to experiments, while the other was kept as a control. If one twin died, the other one was also killed, and then the doctors examined the results of the experiments and compared both bodies.


MKUltra was a secret project in the U.S. during the Cold War era.

Amid rumors that communist countries were somehow brainwashing American soldiers abroad, the U.S. government sought to use mind control as a weapon.

By using a wide range of psychological manipulation methods (including hypnosis, electroshock therapy, drugs, and even radiation exposure), researchers tried to identify and develop drugs and procedures that could be used in interrogations to weaken a person's resistance and make them confess to crimes.

Such methods were far from ethical.

Participants in these experiments often didn't even realize what they were signing up for. The easy targets were prisoners and patients in psychiatric hospitals. Research institutions also included colleges, universities, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies.

As a result of these horrifying experiments and abuses, the subjects felt like their "bones were melting," and their ability to understand that they were human beings was lost. And this was just the beginning.

All experiments were carried out under the veil of secrecy, and the CIA denied involvement in such activities.

Somewhat later, after significant hearings in Congress, CIA employees claimed to have no memory of these events, and most of the information about the project was destroyed.

Stanford Prison Experiment

In 1971, American psychologist Philip Zimbardo conducted a psychological experiment funded by the U.S. Navy to understand the origins of conflicts in their correctional facilities and the Marine Corps.

Participants for the project were recruited through a newspaper advertisement, offering them $15 per day for two weeks. Out of 70 individuals who responded to the ad, Zimbardo and his team selected the 24 healthiest and psychologically stable ones (mostly white, middle-class males, and college students).

At the beginning of the experiment, all the young men were randomly assigned to be either "guards" or "prisoners." An improvised "prison" was set up in the Stanford University psychology department. A senior lab assistant became the "warden," and Zimbardo himself acted as the director.

The "guards" were given wooden batons, military-style khaki uniforms (which they chose themselves from a store), and mirrored sunglasses (to hide their eyes). They were to work in shifts and return home on weekends (though many later volunteered for unpaid overtime shifts).

The "prisoners" had to wear small chains (as a reminder of their captivity) and were dressed only in deliberately ill-fitting gowns with no underwear, uncomfortable rubber sandals, and tight nylon stocking caps (symbolizing the recruits going through basic military training in the army).

They were referred to by numbers, not their names, with numbers sewn onto their gowns.

A day before the experiment, the "guards" were briefed on their duty – to patrol the prison (in any way they saw fit). No other instructions were given, except for a prohibition on physical violence.

The future "prisoners" were told to wait at home until they were called for the experiment. After that, they were arrested without warning, and accused of armed robbery. Real police officers arrested them as part of this experiment.

After a full police procedure (reading rights, photographing, fingerprinting), the "prisoners" were brought to the prepared "prison," where they underwent a strip search, were stripped naked, "deloused," and given identification numbers.

All participants quickly adapted to their roles. However, the consequences of the experiment shocked even Zimbardo. One-third of the "guards" displayed sadistic tendencies, and the "prisoners" were emotionally traumatized.

The experiment rapidly spiraled out of control leading to a rebellion, torment, emotional breakdowns, and even a hunger strike in some cases, and it was prematurely terminated - six days after it began.