Shocking Psychological Experiments and Treatments in America

This exhibit will discuss notable social psychology experiments and treatments of mental illness and those who suffer from it, as well as media reports and conclusions relating to both experiments and treatment.

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  2. I recently changed my major to Psychology after I realized that I am continuously drawn to topics concerning psychology and sociology. The decision to create an exhibit that focused on psychology was particularly influenced by several assignments I have completed this semester:

    1) New York Times project: Focused on psychologist Stanley Milgram and his many social experiments, especially his obedience experiments that were conducted in the 1960’s. I also read articles that demonstrated how his findings and findings by other psychologists have correlated with real human behavior (past and present).

    2) Geolocation/mapping story: Focused on a different aspect of psychology, namely locations of particularly inhumane insane asylums/mental hospitals in regard to their methods and treatment of patients.

    3) Timeline project: Focused on various notable social psychology experiments in America -- before and after Milgram's experiment. From this, I was able to see that human behavior has not changed vary drastically over the years.

    4) Storify project: Focused on police brutality committed against America's most vulnerable inhabitants, including the mentally ill.

    All of the previously mentioned assignments have greatly influenced the development of this exhibit, which will touch on various areas of psychology but still remain focused on questionable and/or inhumane experiments and treatments in our nation’s history.

    Overall, I will explore three areas relating to psychology:

    1) Experiments -- Particularly dealing with human behavior and how easily it can be influenced.
    Actual events have shown that people are inclined to be influenced by other people. Sometimes this influence is positive and sometimes not.

    2) Treatments -- Treatments meant to cure/subdue the mentally ill, and treatments of patients by those serving/protecting them. by Text-Enhance">Studies have revealed that many past and current practices have not/are not working, and actually making things worse.

    This exhibit will focus on the negative influences that experiments and events, but at the same time, reveal potential negative influences and practices in order to hopefully lessen the negative them.


  4. Carney Landis and the Facial Expressions Experiment

  5. Carney Landis performed experiments to see if participants would display similar facial expressions when exposed to the same stimuli. Ultimately, he found that facial expressions vary and can be misleading. However, he also noted the willingness of participants to obey orders. Specifically, two-thirds agreed to decapitate a rat, and most people also smiled while doing it and/or watching it (Boese, 2011). Below are several images of some of the participants as they decapitated a rat and/or watched a rat be decapitated.
  6. Source of Information:
    Boese, A (2011). Facial expressions while decapitating a rat, 1924 Times. Retrieved from 

  7. Solomon Asch's Conformity Experiments

  8. In 1951, Solomon Asch presented two cards to participants:  card one had one line and card two had three lines with one line being the same length as the line on card A. He then asked the participant to identify which line from card two matched card one. Seven actors, who were with the participant, purposely gave the wrong answer. The results showed that one-fourth of participants conformed 50% of the time (Blakeslee, 2005).
  9. Source of Information:
    Blakeslee, S (2005, June 28). What other people say may change what you see. The New York Times.

    Retrieved from 

  10. Muzafer Sherif and the Robbers Cave Experiments

  11. In 1954, Muzafer Sherif took a large group of boys and split them into two groups. Separated from each other, bonds between members developed. Each group even took on a name and “status hierarchies”. When the groups were first introduced, they teased each other. This only escalated after an organized competition was held. Specifically, the groups burned the other’s flags and raided each other’s rooms (Berkeley).
  12. Source of information:
    Berkeley. Robbers Cave experiment Muzafer Sherif
    . (n.d.). Retrieved from 

  13. Stanley Milgram and The Obedience Experiments

  14. Dr. Stanley Milgram was social psychologist and psychology professor. He is most well-known for his  obedience experiments conducted in the 1960’s. Below is a presentation outlining these experiments.
  15. Stanley Milgram's Obedience Experiments

    Milgram's experiments were inspiration for numerous replications. Below are some of the replications.

  17. 2008 Replication

  18. A professor at Santa Clara University replicated part of the experiment in order to see whether people today would still obey. They did. As in the Milgram experiment, more than 50% of the participants proceeded with the experiment past the 150-volt mark. Interviews with the participants at the conclusion of the experiment revealed that those who chose to stop shocking the learner generally believed themselves to be responsible for the shocks, while those who did not believed that the experimenter was accountable (Carey, 2008). It is worth mentioning that participants normally turned toward the researcher after administering the shocks to see whether they should continue the experiment. Several of them also laughed and/or smiled after hearing the learner yell out in pain. Perhaps this was due to their own “feeling of shock”?

  19. Source of information:

    Carey, B (2008, July 1). Decades later, still asking: Would I pull that switch? The New York Times. Retrieved from 

  20. 2010 Replication

  21. Dozens of people were tricked into "administering what seemed like painful electric shocks to a fellow contestant (actor)” as part of what they believe was a new french game show. In actuality, it was a an experiment and documentary on obedience (Mackey, 2010). The creator of the show believes that the power of television is the reason why nearly 80% of the participants agreed to administer the shocks. However, there was also a crowds cheering for the participants and encouraging them administer shocks, which may have certainly also had an impact on participant behavior. This experiment was considered unethical because participants could administer shocks up to 460 volts because such a high voltage level is considered unethical nowadays due to the psychological impact it can have on people.And although this was not really considered unethical, participants were required to sign a contract before the show, agreeing to follow any instructions they were given.