The 6 Cruelest Science Experiments Ever (Were Done on Kids)
Sometimes science has to be ruthless. If curing cancer means dropping a dozen frightened children into the jungle for some reason, then by God that's what you do. And if you aren't curing cancer, but are just curious about what children look like when abandoned in a jungle, well, you still do it. Why? Because science.
Think we're joking? Hold on to your butts, because all of the following experiments really happened.
Put Kids in the Wilderness, Make Them Go to War
In the summer of 1954, social psychologist Muzafer Sherif wanted to see if two groups stuck in the wild would learn to hate each other. What else was there to do but try it?
Thus kicked off his Robbers Cave experiment, in which a group of 11 ordinary, middle-class 11-year-old boys headed to summer camp at Robbers Cave State Park in Oklahoma, anxious for three fun-filled weeks of hiking, fishing and swimming. They were completely unaware that their parents had signed them up for Sherif's experiment, and that there was a second group of campers elsewhere on the site that they would be trained to hate.
"In retrospect, providing the camp chapel with a full-sized crucifix was tragically misguided."
For the first week, the groups were kept apart and encouraged to participate in separate team-building events and activities, in order to form relationships within each group. They established their own hierarchy and elected leaders, and gave their groups names -- the Eagles and the Rattlers, because it was the 1950s. Each group even designed flags to represent themselves. Then, once each group had formed a close-knit bond, the Eagles and the Rattlers conveniently "discovered" each other, and both sides approached the situation with about as much grace and understanding as David Duke running a three-legged race with Tyler Perry.
To see how much conflict they could instigate between the two groups, the experimenters arranged a tournament with events like baseball and tug-of-war, promising shiny trophies and pocket knives to the winners, because as we all know, the one prize you should always award a warring band of feral children is a knife. With a little creative prodding, what started with boos and insults quickly escalated into a full-out battle, ending with the Eagles burning the Rattlers' flag after being defeated at tug-of-war.
A nationalistic coup then wracked the Rattlers, leading to the establishment of a military junta.
As the tournament waged on, fistfights had to be constantly broken up, and any time the two groups had to eat together, the mess hall would erupt into Road House. Finally, the Eagles won the tournament and were given the coveted prizes, only to have the Rattlers ransack their cabin and steal the bejeezus out of them. Yep, Sherif and his team had successfully transformed 22 ordinary 11-year-old boys with no previous behavioral problems into a mob of aggressive savages.
It took less than three weeks.
"I HAVE THE CONCH!"
Hey, did we mention that Robbers Cave was actually the third time Sherif had run the same experiment, and some sort of violence had inevitably exploded by the end of each trial? And that in one instance, the boys turned on Sherif and his team?
Programming Kids for Violence, Then Turning Them Loose on a Clown
In the early '60s, a psychologist named Albert Bandura wanted to investigate whether children would imitate aggressive behavior without encouragement or active suggestion. So he took a Bobo Doll (the original version of those inflatable bop bags you probably had as a kid) and filmed a video of an adult punching, kicking and beating the doll with hammers, because if you're going to hit a clown with something, there's no point in fucking around. Then he showed the video to a group of 24 young children. A second group was given a nonviolent video, and a third control group was given no video at all.
All three groups were unleashed one at a time into a room with a Bobo Doll, some hammers and even some toy guns, though no guns were featured in either video. As seen in this clip, the kids who were shown the aggressive video wasted no time in showing Bobo exactly what they thought of his inflatable whimsy.
Skeptics maintain that the children displayed a perfectly natural reaction to the presence of a Juggalo.
The white kid in the beginning even seems to be creepily whispering things to the doll at gunpoint:
"I'll laugh when you bleed."
The children in the other two groups didn't demonstrate anywhere near as much aggression. However, Bandura's critics argued that you couldn't put children in a room with a toy that's essentially a punching bag and then claim to be proving anything when they hit it -- the Bobo Doll is designed to be smacked around, that's the whole point of its existence. So, Bandura gathered up more children from the infinite supply of them that these scientists seem to have access to and showed them a video of an adult punching, kicking and hammering a real live clown (this was presumably an old Super 8 film he found in his grandfather's attic, along with various antique torture equipment).
After watching the video, Bandura turned the kids loose into a room with ... a real live clown. Sure enough, the children happily assaulted the man with punches, kicks and hammer blows, proving not only that kids imitate aggression, but that they have the same grasp of consequences as a death row inmate with his shoelaces and utensils revoked. And that they won't pass up a chance to rough up a clown.
This would all fit rather nicely as a backstory for the Joker.
The Broken Toy Experiment
Psychologists at the University of Iowa wanted to gain a better understanding of how preschoolers and toddlers experience guilt, because it's never too early to get started on that. So, they devised the broken toy experiment, which is exactly what it sounds like.
"Today you're going to learn that adults will do terrible things for $50 and extra credit."
The experiment was simple. An adult would show a toy to a young child. The adult would go on to explain that the toy was something very special, a sentimental item they'd had since they were very little. Then, asking the child to be very careful with it, the adult would hand over the toy. You know where this is going: The toy was rigged to "break spectacularly" as soon as the kid messed with it, presumably vaporizing in a two-inch fireball after a mild explosion.
The adult then simply said, "Oh, my," and would sit staring at the child for a full minute.
"Timmy, do you know what it means to be 'pro-choice?'"
Picture it, just sitting there in total silence, watching mutely as the children "squirmed, avoided the experimenter's gaze, hunched their shoulders, hugged themselves and covered their faces with their hands." This part of the experiment was presumably designed to teach the children the concept of time dilation -- that is, how their guilt made it the longest goddamn minute they had so far experienced in their short lives.
Interestingly, the kids who seemed most traumatized by the broken toy experiment went on to have the least behavioral problems over the next five years -- though whether this was due to the fact that they'd developed a healthy guilt response or that they'd learned early on that adults are fucking lunatics is impossible to determine.
"He still cries every time we pass a Toys R Us."
Tempting Babies to Crawl Off a Cliff
Once babies reach crawling age, they tend to not crawl straight off the edge of things when the fall is great enough to result in potential injury. But why is that? How do they know what a fatal drop is if they've never experienced one? Clearly the only way to study the phenomenon was to observe some infants as they encountered a remorseless abyss, then try to convince them to crawl off of it.
"Indiana Jones did it, do you want him to think you're a pussy?"
And so, in 1960, two psychologists at Cornell University named Eleanor J. Gibson and Richard D. Walk proceeded to build what they dubbed the "visual cliff" -- a contraption made up of boards laid across a heavy sheet of glass. When some patterned fabric was added, the resulting effect was that the transition from boards to bare glass looked like a sheer drop straight to the floor below. Well, that's not so bad -- there was no real danger to the babies, right?
Well, not physical danger, anyway. One at a time, they plopped a bunch of babies on the "cliff" and had their mothers try to coax them across the glass. In other words, they had the mothers tell their own babies to do something that the babies believed was certain death, and the babies then had to choose between obedience and their own self-preservation.
You may remember that this is exactly how Gollum went crazy the second time.
They tested 36 infants ranging from 6 to 14 months old (you can see the video here), and of those 36, only three crept over the "cliff" and onto the glass (those three presumably did not grow up to become scientists themselves). Most of them crawled away from their mothers, presumably instilling a mistrust that plagued them for the rest of their lives. Others cried, probably because they lacked the language to fill the air with confused, wounded obscenities.
However, Gibson and Walk did notice that several of the infants who didn't cross onto the glass still got close enough to the edge to fall, had the drop been real. This led them to the following conclusion: "Evidently infants should not be left close to a brink, no matter how well they may discriminate depth." So, babies should be kept away from long drops. Thanks, science!
Using Orphans as Practice Babies
Back in the days when young women were only expected to go to school to learn how to roast a chicken in between pregnancies, domestic economy (or home economics) was a thriving program at institutions like Cornell, the University of Minnesota and Eastern Illinois State. And these institutions figured that there was no better way to test out the latest child-rearing theories of the day than on actual living babies.
"Whoops, this one's dead, too. Betty, can you grab a few more from the cabinet?"
Starting around 1920, these colleges and others "borrowed" hundreds of babies from orphanages for young female students to practice on. The babies stayed in practice apartments, where they were cared for by revolving groups of eight to 12 female students, a process we are convinced would lead a developing infant to believe that its mother was a shape-shifting demon.
Peek-a-boo is a lot more disturbing when the face keeps changing.
The babies' real identities were kept secret, so the girls took to giving them names like Denny Domecon (for domestic economy), as detailed in this Cornell publication that literally contains the sentence "Each of Cornell's two practice apartments is equipped with a real baby." After a year or two of serving as the doll in this real-life dollhouse, the babies would go on to homes in adoptive families, presumably frustrated over downgrading to just a personal assistant after having an entire staff.
In their defense, the Illinois State Child Welfare Division tried to shut down Eastern Illinois State's practice-babies program in the mid-1950s to protect a child known as "David North," who at the time was being raised by 12 different student mothers. Ultimately it was decided that the state had no jurisdiction, since David's real mother had given consent, and programs like this continued on up until the 1960s, when people finally realized that the only practice baby you should really get is your own.
"Hey, what did we agree on? No more mulligan babies!"
Turning a Ruined Penis into a Lifelong Experiment
David Reimer was born in Winnipeg in 1965, one of a set of identical twin boys. When David was 8 months old, his parents took him to the doctor to get circumcised. Unfortunately, rather than using a scalpel like a medical professional, the doctor decided to use an electrocautery needle, presumably because one of his nightmares dared him to. If you're not familiar with that device or what it does, let us just put it like this: During the procedure, the doctor accidentally burned off David's entire penis.
"... on the plus side, he'll save a fortune on condoms!"
Understandably distraught, David's parents went to psychologist Dr. John Money, an expert in the field of sexual identity studies, for advice. Dr. Money made the radical recommendation of performing a sex change operation and raising David as a girl.
David's parents accepted his advice, truly wanting to do what was best in the wake of their son's tragedy and give him the best life they could. However, Dr. Money wasn't terribly interested in David's quality of life ("wasn't terribly interested" is a phrase that here means "He didn't give one volcanic shit"). Dr. Money suggested the sex change because he saw the situation as the perfect opportunity to perform the ultimate experiment to "prove that nurture, not nature, determines gender identity and sexual orientation." And the fact that David had a twin brother to use as a control group was just the icing on the douchecake.
"Quit letting her play with dolls, she's tainting my data!"
The problem was, David never accepted his role as "Brenda." She rebelled against wearing dresses and preferred her brother's toy cars and guns to her own dolls (to be fair, many girls do, because cars and guns are badass). She was relentlessly teased at school for talking and acting like a boy. Brenda/David's (Brendavid's?) parents went to Dr. Money for help, but he insisted that the child was just "going through a phase," and that everything would be totally fine. Meanwhile, Money was continuously publishing papers about the experiment and labeling it a complete success, which suggests that at no point in medical school was he called on to open a dictionary to the "S" section.
But Money mysteriously stopped publishing glowing reports on his experiment in the late '70s -- right around the time David found out the truth about his penis being melted off by a space wand. A few decades quietly passed, and then in 1997 the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine released a detailed follow-up on Dr. Money's experiments, illustrating the catastrophic damage he had caused to poor, tragic David and creating a media uproar criticizing his actions.
"Oh sure, blame the guy who didn't melt his penis off!"
Money was reportedly "mortified" by the case and refused to talk about it, although whether he was more upset over David's ultimate suicide or the failure of his own hubris is debatable.
For more terrifying things science has done, check out 9 Real Life Mad Scientists and The 5 Weirdest Drug Experiments Performed on Animals.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The Singing Android That Will Ruin Robots for You.
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