Glass Cage Experiment

In the mid-late 1930s, an experiment was devised known as the “Glass Cage Experiment,” filed under the misleading title “Pressure-Carbonated Soda.”

The test was run on some 30 individuals varying from ages 22-67 years; each of which would’ve been paid $20 each month for their participation and would have lived on site for the duration of the tests. Its purpose was to eliminate fear in an individual by exposing the test subject to one of their phobias. The subject was placed inside a 6’5” by 3’5” by 4’5” glass ‘coffin’ suspended within a larger, 8’ by 6’ by 5’10” glass case. The ‘coffins’ were made with several layers of strong glass adhered together with several steel latches in place to keep it shut. Oxygen deprivation was not a problem in the design as two small tubes were run into the glass that would constantly circulate air.

-These next parts may make you squeamish if you have a common phobia-

The subject would take a test to provide information about their mental state/intelligence level and of any admitted irrational fears, and would then be sealed into the glass case. The case around the subject was then filled with the object of their phobia in mass quantities - cases would be filled with spiders, snakes, various species of vermin, water, and soil. The most common test was having the outer case painted in a heavy coat of black paint, and the least common –being tested on a single individual- was tube socks.

Subjects would remain calm 47 seconds to 1 minute 22 seconds before entering a state of panic and begin screaming. Shrieks and demands to be let out would continue well into 30 minutes, these outbursts would turn into threats, then pleading through sobs, then into intense crying until, finally, the subject would fall into a state of catatonia. At around 4 hours, the objects of fear would be removed and the subject let out; most subjects released at the 4-hour-mark were dazed upon exit, but recovered quickly (though with some agitation afterwards). Subjects held longer showed particularly adverse results of post traumatic stress disorder such as extreme hydrophobia to the point of dehydration, violent outbursts at the slightest sign of their fear, audio-visual hallucinations, and anti-social personality disorder. These symptoms would increase dramatically with each test. Eventually, subjects being tested on the extreme side became ‘undesirable for testing.’ Three of the 30 subjects were tested only once with 10 others being tested once a month for 4 hours, 8 tested for 42 hours over a month, 5 tested for 36 hours over a week, and 4 being tested for an entire day, 2-3 times a week at irregular intervals.

These tests stopped in the late 30s when it was discovered the amygdala was responsible for fear. The subjects of the Glass Cage were never heard from again.