5 Of The Creepiest Science Experiments Ever

Some scientists seem dedicated to exploring all of the ways that Lovecraftian horror can be made real for their test subjects.
5 Of The Creepiest Science Experiments Ever

Science is usually around to take scary stuff and make it less ominous. Science is what tells us that Michael Myers couldn't survive those wounds, that a giant shark wouldn't actually seek revenge, and that Chucky would in reality have to rely almost entirely on projectile weapons.

That said, some scientists seem dedicated to exploring all of the ways that Lovecraftian horror can be made real for their test subjects. They've discovered that ...

Brain Stimulation Can Make You Sense A "Shadow Person" Behind You

The right gadgets can put a ghostly figure right in a room with you, and we're not talking about holograms desecrating the sanctity of the Coachella Music Festival. Scientists have actually figured out the process behind how we create ghosts in our own minds. And they can now replicate the process at will ... you know, in case we ever need to do that.

Stimulation via electrodes and a robotic apparatus have been shown to make subjects believe they are surrounded by multiple spectral wraiths, ones that alternately lurk, mimic movements, and even touch their backs with "invisible fingers."

A Tactile feedback Master robot Slave robot E 6 (0-6) Sync Async rating Average Self-touch Control Questionnaire item C Sync Async Force No force FoP
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne

According to Professor Olaf Blanke (a man whose name seems to indicate that he'll soon declare war on the Fantastic Four), "Our experiment induced the sensation of a foreign presence in the laboratory for the first time. It shows that it can arise under normal conditions, simply through conflicting sensory-motor signals. This confirms that it is caused by an altered perception of their own bodies in the brain." Another way to put it is they scared the shit out of some coeds by hooking stuff up to their bodies until they thought the lab was haunted.

Incredibly, the point of all this was not to come up with a fun and exciting new way to induce a heart attack. Rather, it was to identify the parts of the brain that cause us to see spirits and provide a rational explanation for many claims of the supernatural on record. So the next time someone runs out of their house shrieking about poltergeists, you can calm them down by saying, "Actually, it was science! The ghosts are in your skull."

Related: 5 Of The Most Horrifying Human Experiments Ever Conducted

The "Bloody Mary" Game Really Does Make You See Monsters

If you weren't among the adolescents who went and Beelzebub'd a perfectly good slumber party by playing Bloody Mary, here's what it is: After the giggling has died down, a duly chosen participant stares into a mirror by candlelight while chanting the name "Bloody Mary" repeatedly. That's it. Well, except for the part of the ritual where a hideous "Bloody Mary" face appears in the reflection. But that's just a teenage urban legend, right?

Alarmingly, researchers have discovered that this particular phenomena is real, but thankfully it's only as paranormal as security cam moth ghosts. Not that it wasn't creepy as fuck for the people participating in the experiments conducted by Dr. Giovanni Caputo, who calls this the "Strange-Face-in-the-Mirror Illusion." It involved getting 50 subjects to stare at a mirror in a dimly lit room for ten minutes until unspeakable abominations started to appear. According to the study, it usually took less than a minute for people to see stuff like messed-up versions of their own face, dead relatives, portraits of their ancestors, and monsters.

That's seriously all it takes. You can go try it right now if you want. I'll wait.

What's actually happening is something called neural adaptation, which means the neurons in our brains go a little stir-crazy when forced to look at the same thing for extended periods of time. As for Dr. Caputo, he apparently wasn't satisfied with bamboozling the unsuspecting into confronting "fantastical and monstrous beings." So he also concocted an experiment wherein 20 "healthy young individuals" were told to stare at each other, eyeball-to-eyeball, in low-light conditions. And while this scenario sounds like a completely different game teenagers play at sleepovers, Caputo once again discovered that, as the old saying goes, all roads lead to monsters.

Related: The 7 Most Hilariously Creepy Science Experiments Ever

VR Trickery Unlocks Bizarre Body Illusions

Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm wanted to raise the bar in the twin fields of screwing with people's minds and terrifying them with body horror. For that, they knew they needed some cutting-edge technology.

Allegedly to learn how our relationship to our own arms and legs affects our perception of the world around us, they've been plunging volunteers into various hellscapes using VR headsets and mannequins, all to trick them into thinking that their various appendages are Barbie and/or Sasquatch-sized. They also tested this on themselves, with one of the scientists describing the process: "It is a crazy and funny phenomenon to be a small Barbie doll being touched by a gigantic hand that is bigger than your own body." Why, what a not at all creepy thing to say!

The end goal of these experiments is purportedly to better remotely control robots for things like deep-sea pipe repair and microsurgery (and the inevitable Kaiju battles the scientists are not allowed to discuss). And to further study how our brains create a "self image," they've also been recreating out-of-body experiences with VR devices, a little deception, and just a dash of sadism:

"In both studies, participants wore goggles hooked up to cameras planted behind them, so that participants had a view of their own backs. Then they were physically stimulated in ways that would enhance or reduce the feeling that their selves were located outside their bodies. To be certain -- and to get some harder data -- he hooked up his participants to stress-monitoring devices, and then swung a hammer at the space where the illusory chest would have been. The readings showed signs of stress all right. Many participants also visibly flinched."

You know. For science.

Related: The 6 Cruelest Science Experiments Ever (Were Done On Kids)

Inducing The Unthinkable Terror That Is Sleep Paralysis

As anyone who's ever experienced the phenomenon can tell you, sleep paralysis is a walk in the park -- a blood-curdling Slender Man, Babadook, and John Wayne Gacy park. Basically you wake up, are unable to move your limbs, then start having incredibly realistic hallucinations that range from intruder scenarios ("in which the person feels the presence of an evil, threatening individual"), to so-called "incubus hallucinations" (where you think a creature is sitting on your chest trying to suffocate you), to out-of-body experiences (you're suddenly looking down at your own paralyzed self).

Believe it or not, there are those who purposefully try to bring on these instances of hideous frozen helplessness in order to achieve more "extraordinary dreaming." More rational people would rather eliminate sleep paralysis from their lives entirely, so researchers are hard at work studying the problem ... by waking up volunteers every hour, on the hour until the waking nightmares kick in. After all, how can you treat the horror without inducing the horror? Let's just cite the notes from the study:

"She ... was suddenly attacked by paralysis. She felt much stronger fear than ever before. She tried to fight the paralysis by turning over in bed. However, despite an attempt at turning, her paralysis did not cease."

You have to love the clinical "She felt much stronger fear than ever before" phrasing. Another subject:

"He tried to move his hands but could not. He heard strange sounds like a cassette tape winding quickly."

Well, that's not so bad. Let's see how the final subject did-

"In the dream, she saw the 'god of thunder' fly above her, and then her feet were paralyzed. She was frightened at her paralysis and woke up. She saw the strange face of a man on the wall of the bedroom."

Jesus Christ.

Related: The 10 Craziest Scientific Experiments Ever Conducted

Messing With The Air Can Instill Fear In The Fearless

So clearly, scientists are working around the clock to find amazing new ways to terrorize unsuspecting people, which is perfectly fine, despite also being the fixation of the Scarecrow. But these scientists are confounded by a particular group of people who physically cannot feel fear to any real degree, due to not having a functioning amygdala. The scientists, of course, took that as a challenge and set out to scare the bejeezus out of them.

Justin Feinstein at the University of Iowa found that test subjects with the aforementioned brain condition couldn't care less about standard goosebump fuel, like snakes, spiders, panel-van-driving clowns, or even a weird combination of all three at their front door. In fact, they couldn't even recognize the facial cues that indicated fear on the faces of others. But Dr. Feinstein eventually discovered that even the clinically fearless can indeed be spooked -- you simply have to mess with the air they're breathing. Yes, just like the Scarecrow.

Comparison SM AM BG
Iowa Neurological Patient Registry, University of Iowa

The SM, AM, and BG brains show dark spots where normally heebie-jeebies-producing parts should be. And what Feinstein found was that even these three individuals, who had the misfortune of being cursed with one of the world's worst superpowers, can be freaked out by nothing more than tricking their goddamned brains into thinking they're suffocating.

Breathing high levels of CO2 -- tripping an alarm in the brain that screams "YOU CAN'T BREATHE" -- made these people feel fear, and then panic. And if that doesn't seem that bad to you, keep in mind that these subjects did not previously know what fear felt like. Stop and think about that. Feinstein said, "The patients experienced significantly more fear and panic than the controls," presumably because the control group knew what they were feeling. For the brain-damaged group, it was venturing into a realm of terror they previously didn't even know existed.

So ... mission accomplished?

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