Psychologist all over the world conduct and record their experiments, in order to gain better insight of how the human mind works. These experiments have helped the medical field to improve the quality of life of those suffering from various mental illnesses. However, some of these practices were unethical and ended up doing more harm than good to the test subjects.
The Homosexual Aversive Therapy was conducted before 1973, aimed to cure homosexuals from their homosexual desires and behaviour. Although there were numerous experiments conducted on homosexuals, aversive therapy is one of the most documented experiments and is considered to be the most unethical.
Aversive therapy is a form of psychological treatment that is used to reduce an undesirable behaviour in an individual. Aversive conditioning is a method where an aversive stimulus (causing disgust and discomfort) is paired with an unwanted behaviour, in an effort to eliminated that behaviour. This therapy was used to reduce and eliminate homosexual behaviour before the American Psychiatric Association (APA) declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973. These therapies were mostly subjected to homosexual men, without their consent. These test subjects were forcefully brought in by their family members, who hoped to cure their homosexual behaviour.
An experiment that was conducted in 1967 with 43 homosexual patients (all men) for a period of three and a quarter year. The experimenters used aversive shock therapy to eliminate the homosexual behaviour in their test subjects. The experimenters first projected a picture of a naked man on the screen and told the subjects to keep the picture for as long as they found it attractive. After eight seconds the patients were injected with drugs and administered shocks (mostly to the genitals) if they hadn’t changed the slide. The patients were immediately shown pictures of women and heterosexual pornography, they were not given shocks while watching this. The drugs injected in the patients induced vomiting and nausea.
The drugs and the shocks were thought to reduced homosexual desires in the patients by associating it to discomfort and disgust and increase heterosexual behaviours. Instead of curing their behaviour, the treatment only caused more psychological problems, with one of the patients even dying because of the treatment administered to him.
These treatments were not found effective to most of the patients, some continued to have same- sex attraction, with no interest in the opposite sex. A few patients claimed that the treatment changed their sexual orientation from homosexuality to bisexuality. These brutal shock therapy sessions caused side effects such as memory loss, feelings of depression, loss or decrease in sexual feelings, anxiety issues and suicidal tendencies. This unethical treatment which promised to cure its subjects, only added to their problems and scarred them for life.