Bright Side

9 Disturbing Experiments With Children That Arouse a Storm of Indignation


Wisdom and knowledge don’t come to people out of nowhere, they appear after many attempts and mistakes. Thanks to scientists who were not scared of experiments, mistakes, risks, and failures, our world got the light bulb, an X-ray, the first vaccine, and DNA decoding.

But learning human nature is quite a delicate task and experiments involving the participation of children have always caused many controversies. A small mistake can lead to awful consequences for the life of a child.

We at Bright Side collected 9 experiments that involved the participation of kids and caused a lot of turmoil. Many researchers and scientists have gone too far in their aspirations for learning something new, but thanks to one of them the world got a smallpox vaccine.

1. Bobo the doll experiment, or how kids copy the behavior of adults

In the middle of the 20th century, a psychologist named Albert Bandura decided to figure out how far kids would go in copying the behavior of adults. He took a big, inflatable clown, called it Bobo, and made several videos. In one of them, an adult was hugging the doll and playing with it and in the other, he was scolding the doll, pushing it, and even beating it with a rubber hammer.

Later he divided the kids into 3 groups. To one group, he showed the video without violence, to the second group, he showed the video with violence, and he showed nothing to the third group. The groups of kids took turns entering the room where Bobo was sitting. Toy hammers and guns were also there in the room.

Kids that had watched the aggressive video, started to tease the doll with no hesitation. They scolded the doll, kicking it, beating it with hammers, and threatening it with a gun. The other 2 groups didn’t have even the smallest sign of expressing violence.

What did this research prove? Kids imitate the behavior of adults and sometimes they do it thoughtlessly. That’s why if your kids start to use bad words, beat other kids, or speak rudely to their grandparents, watch carefully: who are they mimicking?

2. Raising a chimpanzee as a sister of your own kid

In the 1930s, scientists were still trying to understand how much data in a person’s intelligence is inherited. There was even a crazy theory that chimpanzees can’t speak and are not aware of good manners because they don’t grow up among human kids.

Psychologist W.N. Kellogg decided to check this theory. When he had his son Donald, his family also adopted a 7-month-old female chimpanzee with the name Gua, which was being raised together with their own son as if they were brother and sister.

But the experiment actually went wrong. Even though Gua learned to hold a spoon in her hands and understand human language a little, she didn’t progress a lot in her development. While Donald, in his turn, started to repeat a lot of things after his ’sister.’ He was jumping, squeaking and biting, and could only use 3 words by the age of one and a half. The experiment had to urgently be stopped.

What did this research prove? A child can also copy the behavior of animals and different stories about Mowgli kids confirm it. On the other hand, the attempt to humanize the animal failed even though it was the closest species to humans who took part in the experiment.

3. A broken doll, or making a kid feel guilty

Psychologists from the University of Iowa decided to find out, in a very harsh manner, how kids develop feelings of guilt. The experiment with a broken doll helped them in their research. An adult showed a kid a doll saying how precious the doll was to them, how much they love her, and how many things are connected with her. After that, they gave the doll to the child asking them to be extremely careful with it.

Once the doll got into their hands, a special mechanism inside the doll broke the doll. According to the instructions of psychologists, after breaking the doll, the adult in the room was supposed to look silently at the child for a minute.

It’s hard to imagine what was happening in the head of the child who was probably feeling guilty. Looking with reproach in complete silence only worsened the situation. After some time, the adult went over to the child with the same doll explaining that it was nobody’s fault, but it seems that the damage was already done and the child still felt guilty.

What did this research prove? Kids that took part in this experiment behaved cautiously and calmly in the following years. But it’s unlikely that they learned what a healthy feeling of guilt was. Most likely, the reason for this behavior was the fear of upsetting another person. However, they probably came to the conclusion that anything can be expected from adults.

4. Forced transformation of Bruce into Brenda

Bruce Reimer was born in 1965 in Canada together with his twin brother. At the age of 8 months, the boy was circumcised and a part of his genital organ was burned in a medical error. Psychologist John Money gave his parents a radical piece of advice — to perform a surgery, change the sex, and raise their son as a daughter.

The parents decided that it was a good idea. Additionally, it was a good opportunity for doctor Money to prove his theory that it’s nurture and not nature that affects the gender identification of a person.

But Bruce didn’t want to become Brenda, to wear dresses, or play with dolls — he wanted to stay the same boy he was born as, like his brother. John Money assured his parents that this is a ’difficult age’ and it will pass by very soon. But the problem grew stronger over the years. After finding out the truth, the boy had several surgeries and turned back into a man named David. Later he got married, but at the age of 38 he committed suicide.

What did this research prove? Such experiments can easily break a kid’s psyche. Nowadays, the issue of gender identification has become more well researched. The decision not to determine a kid’s gender before he is able to make the choice consciously and the appearance of the third gender — has caused many debates and discussions. But there is one thing we can say for sure — doing these experiments against a child’s will is a crime.

5. Tickling with a stoic facial expression

In 1933, the psychologist Clarence Leuba decided to figure out why we laugh when we are being tickled. Is it an innate instinct or is it because we see the smile of the person tickling us and smile back at him? He decided to conduct the experiment on his own son.

Leuba prohibited everyone in the family from tickling his son except for the sessions he conducted by himself. Additionally, he forbade his wife to laugh when she was touching the baby.

During his sessions, Leuba would wear a paper mask so that his facial expression stayed hidden while he tickled the child. But the purity of the experiment was violated by the wife of the psychologist because she once laughed when she was rocking her son. After some time, the same experiment was conducted on the second kid of this couple.

What did this research prove? The psychologist came to the conclusion that kids laugh even if they know that it is commonly accepted. However, it is definitely strange that this research was so important for this father that he agreed to deprive his own kids of the simple joys of life.

6. Infecting his son with smallpox to prove the invention of the vaccine

In the 18th century, English doctor Edward Jenner decided to prove that if a person gets infected with a non-lethal strain of cow smallpox, after they recover they will have an immunity against the really scary strain of human smallpox.

In order to prove his theory, Jenner infected his own son with cow smallpox. This moment has even been immortalized in a sculpture. After the baby recovered, Jenner took a huge risk and infected the baby with real human smallpox. If his theory was right, the baby wasn’t supposed to get ill.

What did this research prove? Thankfully, the doctor’s calculations were correct and the boy didn’t get ill. Otherwise, Jenner would have stayed in the history as a crazy killer of his own son, instead of being the inventor of a vital vaccine.

7. To make a child afraid of white things

Scientist John Watson decided to figure out how conditional emotional reactions are formed in kids. For that, he conducted an experiment with his 9-month-old baby Albert and taught him to be afraid of white things.

At first, he showed Albert a white rat. After the baby got used to it and started to play with it, scientists started to scare the child by hitting a metal pipe every time Albert approached the rat.

Albert started to feel afraid not only of the rat but of any other white things that distantly resembled the rat. He instantly started to cry whenever he saw them. The experiment was soon stopped because the baby was taken away by his mother.

What did this research prove? This trick is used when training animals but, as it turns out, the necessary emotion can be created in babies too. Luckily, the taboo on moral and psychological violence against children doesn’t allow harsh experiments like this one anymore.

8. Making a baby stutter

Another horrifying experiment was held in 1939 by scientists Wendell Johnson and Mary Tudor who were studying the factors of speech development. They gathered 22 kids, split them into 2 groups and tried to artificially make one of the groups stutter.

Some kids were constantly being praised, while others were humiliated and laughed at. They were assured that they were speaking incorrectly and that they were going to stutter for sure. Soon, many kids from the second group stopped talking with other people, and some of them started to stutter.

Journalists called Johnson’s experiment a ’monster study.’ It’s much better to study the dynamics of raising kids with the help of positive statements or at least with the absence of negative ones.

What did this research prove? It’s hard to say that the scientists discovered anything outstanding. If you keep shouting and scolding a child, it is likely that they will grow into an insecure person. But if you keep praising and supporting a child, they will overcome even the defects and flaws they already have.

9. Pavlov’s experiments on kids

It’s hard to find a person who doesn’t know about the Russian academician Ivan Pavlov and the experiments that he conducted on dogs, studying their food reflexes. There is even a monument depicting the actual ’Pavlov dog.’ There should actually be another monument next to the dog — like a bronze child.

Not only did Pavlov’s school conduct experiments on dogs, but it also did experiments involving homeless kids between the ages of 6 and 15. They gladly agreed to take part in the experiment after which they were treated with chocolates. cranberries, and other delicacies that orphans could only dream about.

Those experiments were carefully described in the book of the Soviet physiologist and pediatrician Nikolay Krasnogorskiy. They were not much different from those that were conducted on the dogs.

What did this research prove? Thanks to his experiments, Pavlov was able to prove that there is not much difference between the food reflexes of humans and animals. The scientist wanted to get his second Nobel Prize for his work, but the committee decided not to nominate him due to the ethical issues with the experiment.

Experiments on people are one of the most debatable topics of modern science. On one hand, this approach helps scientists to learn more information about the human body, but on the other hand, there are many ethical questions that are raised with these types of experiments. Additionally, if the children that are taking part in the research can get harmed or hurt, it’s better to skip the idea completely.

Do you agree with us? Please share your opinion in the comments!