Project Nim and five other bizarre (and unethical) experiments people have performed on monkeys
In the early 1970s, behavioral psychologist Herbert Terrace designed an experiment to discover whether chimps could use language. At the center of the experiment was Nim Chimpsky, a chimpanzee raised in different homes, taught sign language and eventually brought back to the laboratory. James Marsh's new documentary, Project Nim (at the Mayan Theatre), chronicles the tragic life of Nim. But this wasn't anything new. In conjunction with the unsettling film, we decided to take a look at other creepy experiments people have done on primates over the years.
Harlow's Pit of Despair
Psychologist Henry Harlow was known for his disturbing and inhumane experiments on monkeys that are famous in psychology textbooks as well as among animal-rights activists for their cruelty. In one particularly disturbing experiment, he placed baby rhesus monkeys in a device he called the "pit of despair," which isolated them from other monkeys, sometimes for up to a year. As predicted, the monkeys became incredibly depressed and psychotic, something rehabilitation could never fix.
Monkey Drug Trials
This creepy 1969 experiment showed one thing: that drugs are addictive and harmful. A group of monkeys were taught to inject themselves with morphine, cocaine, codeine and other drugs and then left with an endless supply. Of course, the results were awful. Monkeys ripped off their own fingers and hair and eventually died. All to learn that drugs are bad. Huh...didn't we already know that?
Lucy was a chimpanzee raised as if she were human by a psychologist and his wife in 1964 from when she was just two days old. An episode of Radiolab details that she signed, made tea, looked at Playgirl magazine and drank gin. But because she was raised this way, Lucy had a hard time relating to members of her own species. Though she eventually was able to assimilate into a group of wild chimpanzees, Lucy was ultimately killed by poachers.
Before people were sent into space, and even before famous Russian dogs Belka and Strelka traveled on a rocket and came back alive in 1960, the U.S. sent a lot of monkeys into outer space to test the effects of space travel. Monkeys named Albert, Gordo and many more died from the complications of being astronauts.
Monkey Head Transplants
In this bizarre Frankenstein experiment, Dr. Robert White semi-successfully transplanted the head of a monkey onto another monkey's body. It was only semi-successfu: While the monkey was able to move its facial muscles, it was completely paralyzed from the neck down because they were unable to reattach the spinal column. Freaky!