01 Feb Welcome to the Psych Lab: The Full Story
I hereby declare that I have been clearly informed about the nature and method of the study, as described above.
I voluntarily agree to participate in this study. I retain the right to withdraw this consent without having to give a reason. I realize that I can stop the study at any time.
My personal data will not be viewed by third parties without my permission.
Sign here: …………………
The same blah blah as always. As a psychology student I participated in dozens of these studies already. I even conducted two myself. One more boring than the other. Decades ago some insane findings were found through psychological studies, just think of the Stanford prison experiment or Milgram’s study on conformity. Nowadays nothing remotely interesting is possible because of all the ethical regulations you have to follow.
A woman, maybe thirty, with short black hair and a lab coat welcomed me at the entrance of the social studies lab and walked me to the waiting room.
“Hi! I’m Judy and thank you so much for participating in this study. Are you a student?”, she asked with a friendly smile on her face.
“I am but I’m already in my third year so I’m not participating for credit,” I responded.
I’m about to finish my degree, the only thing left is my thesis and I will finally be free. However, this means that I have hardly any time to work, so I could certainly use some extra cash.
Watch a documentary at the lab // 50 euros or 5 credit points
That’s what the flyer had said.
“Oh that’s great, then you probably already know how these things go. The process today will be as follows. You will watch a documentary for 1,5 hours together with a different participant. After that, you will each be guided to your own cubicle where you will do a few computer tasks and fill in a short survey. Your participant number today is 10. Please remember this number to ensure anonymity. Use these numbers with the other participant as well. Please don’t exchange real names. Do you have any questions so far?”
I had no idea I would be watching the documentary with a different person but figured that it was probably a part of the study. To see how people interact in a setting like this, or who knows what. They always have some hidden intention with these studies.
“No, sounds easy enough,” I said. After I signed the informed consent form, we walked to one of the rooms of the lab. ‘Lab’ makes it sound somehow cool and fancy but it’s just a few boring rooms in the ugliest brick building on campus.
The other participant was already sitting on the sofa inside one of the lab rooms which reminded me of an old classroom without windows. Judy pointed me towards the sofa, I said hello and sat down next to him. For some reason he seemed really familiar but I don’t remember meeting him before. Maybe he just reminded me of someone else, I figured. He looked like an average college student, young, brown hair, guns n’ roses shirt. The only thing that stood out to me was his extremely pale skin, which reminded me a little of myself. I never get a tan due to some blood issues I was born with.
“The movie will start automatically in a moment. Please pay attention as you will have to answer questions on it in the next part.” Judy turned the light down and left the room, closing the door behind her.
“What do you think this is about?” the guy whispered.
“Probably nothing, maybe she’s observing us from next door,” I joked.
“Oh hey that’s my number!”, he said and pointed to my hand.
Huh, the number nine was written on my hand with a sharpie.
“This is weird. I don’t remember writing anything on my hand… If anything it should be a 10,” I said, slightly confused. It was pretty early and I was tired but I would have remembered writing a number on my hand.
“Maybe Judy secretly did that to screw with your head,” he laughed.
The documentary started playing and we stopped talking. I don’t know if you’ve ever participated in anything like this but it always feels extremely awkward, adding a stranger makes it even worse. Maybe that’s what they wanted.
I watched the tv but this ‘documentary’ wasn’t making any sense. It was just a number of frames of unrecognizable forms and colors as if someone had run Teletubbies through a blender and it was combined with the weirdest music I’ve ever heard. Was this thing broken? I wanted to say something but the number nine guy was looking at it really focused.
“Whoa, what the fuck!” Nine’ suddenly broke the silence. “Did you see that?” I could tell he was breathing more heavily.
“What do you mean?” I was still whispering.
“That.. looked really fucked up. Didn’t you see that frame? Was that real?.. Okay nevermind, sorry I think it just surprised me.”
I tried to focus some more, make sense of this video that definitely was no documentary. That’s when I noticed it. For a tiny second there was a word shown. Shit, I blinked too soon. A subliminal message or a prime? I kept my eyes open and stared at the screen. Another word, ‘cerebrum’, followed by more happy colors and then ‘mors’. Cerebrum had something to do with the brain but what’s mors?
“There again! Fuck, did you not see that?”
“Those words?”, I asked.
“Words? No the pictures, did-.”
That’s when the tv suddenly shut off and the door opened. Judy was standing in the doorframe, smiling.
“This was the first part. Would you follow me to the cubicles now?”
With a weird feeling, I got up and followed her. The three of us were standing in front of the doors of the cubicle rooms. “You will be in room 1,” she looked at me “and you in number 2. The program is already running, instructions are included in there.”
I went inside the tiny, windowless room filled with fluorescent light and sat down behind the computer. The door behind me shut. Okay, this experiment feels a little weird, I thought, but I only had to finish these few tasks, and then I could leave.
I imagined I’d have to answer questions on that unsettling film but instead I was instructed to do some implicit association test.
You will now be presented with sets of either words or pictures. If you associate the concept with something positive press the left arrow key. If you associate the concept with something negative press the right arrow key.
It started off pretty normally, photos of flowers, storms, clothes. But then it got weird.
A smiling face. Left.
A bloody knife. Right.
A shattered building. Right.
‘Free will’. Right. Fuck. Left.
Shit, this was going fast.
Someone wearing a Venetian mask with bloodstains. Right?
The same person stabbing someone. Right.
Again, the same person, looking straight into the camera. Right, right, right.
What was this?
The masked person holding the knife to his own throat. FUCK, I pressed left.
I was starting to sweat, this didn’t feel normal.
It changed back to the text.
Did you enjoy that? 🙂
I didn’t press anything. This wasn’t normal.
Don’t look away 🙂
I wasn’t pressing anything anymore. More unsettling photos started to appear.
A little girl biting into something that looked like an organ. A heart?
Dozens of organs piled up.
The girl, now wearing the mask and laughing.
From that point on it only got worse. I saw things that I will never forget. Pictures so disturbing I can’t even describe them. Words I didn’t recognize but something inside me knew they were… wrong. I felt like I was about to throw up. I got up, my legs shaking. I had enough. This study was sick. I stumbled back to the door and tried to open it but it was locked.
Suddenly the computer made a loud, shrill noise. The screen changed to another photo. It was me. Wearing that mask and smiling. Then, a photo of the other participant. Number nine. Looking into the camera with blood all over his face. Another photo of me, holding a knife to my throat.
What was going on here? I slowly walked towards the door. I was feeling dizzy.
Thank you for finishing part one. We will see you again when you wake up for part two! 🙂
I realize that I can stop the study at any time.
I had a hunch this wasn’t true when I stood behind the locked door of the cubicle. I knew it wasn’t true when I woke up in a strange hospital bed.
“You’re awake! Omg, I’ve been waiting to talk to you for so long, you’re like a celebrity!”
I slowly came to my senses. In front of me, I saw a girl sitting on my bed, with a big smile on her face but this smile didn’t feel warm. It was the same weird smile Judy had. Like the Cheshire cat. She was wearing a clean purple shirt and purple pants which looked somehow… familiar. Then I remembered, that’s what I was wearing in the photo where I held a knife to my throat. I looked down and noticed that I was wearing the same clothes but mine were white. White as everything else in this room. Clean. Sterile. Except for the blood crust on my inner elbow. There was a syringe stuck to my arm, bandage wrapped around it. I started panicking. I pushed the covers away and tried to get up but I felt too weak.
“Where.. Where am I?” I mumbled.
“In the psych lab silly, welcome back!” Her blonde hair looked thin, her face pale but her smile only got bigger. She must have been in her mid-twenties but the way she talked made her sound like a teenager.
“Ten. That is so impressive. There is only one other person that got that close and-”
“Ten?”, I interrupted her “That’s the participant number they gave to me. Did they talk to you about this? Did you do the same experiment?” My heartbeat was racing.
“It’s on your arm. Looks permanent. I guess this is your final one. Congrats!”
She was right. On the spot that had said nine yesterday there was now a ten. But this one looked like a tattoo. Permanent. Had that happened yesterday? I felt extremely confused. My head was heavy. I felt like throwing up.
I was at the study, I did the task and… That’s the last thing I remembered. They must have drugged me and brought me here. There are some studies that they conduct in the hospital, where they test new medications, or do sleep experiments but this isn’t possible. I did not give consent to be drugged and brought to a creepy hospital. There is no way the university would allow this. This wouldn’t get past any ethical committee. These people had something awful in mind. I had to get out of here.
A thought hit me. Nine. Maybe they brought him here as well.
“What does the number mean?” I asked carefully. I didn’t feel like I could trust her. She seemed too okay with this situation but I had to find out as much as I could.
“Jeez did you forget everything? That’s your trials. I have two, look!” She held her arm in my face, which had the number two tattooed on.
“Most people are two’s or even ones. Some threes. I’m actually happy I’m a two, means I’ll get my treatment soon!” after that she jumped up and walked back to her own bed. Ten trials. Had I been here before?
“You said there is one other person that got close?”
“Yes. To nine. Can you please stop asking stuff now?” The creepy smile finally started to disappear from her face. Instead she looked dead serious “They are in a different wing. They can’t have high numbers talk to each other. And now shht.”
After that she turned her face away from me and lay down in her own bed.
So the number on my arm had something to do with trials. Was this the tenth time I had been her? I collected all my strength and got up. Number two seemed to have fallen asleep. I carried my body over to the window and looked outside. Everything looked awfully normal. The sun was shining bright. There was a big green lawn with a small pond in the middle. On the other side, there were big houses that looked like family homes. The whole street looked like a regular part of town, though I didn’t recognize this district. Maybe they had brought me to a different city. I started shaking more. God, why was I feeling so weak?
I looked over to the houses and the eyes of a person met mine. It was an older woman standing in one of the windows. I waved, cried, hit the window but she showed no reaction. Finally, she smiled, that Cheshire cat smile, and waved back in the calmest way possible. I broke down in tears. I felt like I was sent to a different universe where everyone is bizarrely happy.
I had to get out of here. I couldn’t wait for part two of this experiment, or for some treatment. Especially not after those photos. So I made my way to the door. “Please, please, please don’t be locked” I muttered to myself. It opened. The feeling of relief rushed through my entire body.
That changed quickly when I heard Two shouting “HEEELP COME BAAAACK,” followed by a hysterical laugh.
Fuck, an alarm got off. Red light filled up the surroundings but I couldn’t stop now. I was standing in a hallway with more closed doors. Probably more hospital rooms. From the end of the hallway I heard some commotion. Someone was on their way. Afraid to run into them, I opened the next best door.
I found myself in another room that looked just like mine. I closed the door behind and held my breath. “She ran out… she has to come back,” I heard Two’s muffled voice behind the door. “What do you mean she walked out? Increase her dosage and then…” The rest I couldn’t understand but I knew who it came from. Judy.
Then silence. They had moved on. I walked over to the hospital bed in the middle of the room. There was only one person in here. If you could still call it a person. This man looked completely drained out. As if there were only skin and bones left of him. He was wearing the same purple pants but his exposed chest was full of cuts. Some stitched up, some with bloody crusts. On his arm there was the same two tattooed, and next to it this sign: Ω. But the most frightening part was his face. He was wearing the Venetian mask.
Tears of desperation filled my eyes. I was certain he was dead until his chest suddenly moved up, his ribs sticking out even more. He was breathing. I jumped back when all of a sudden his eyes opened and his mouth formed to a smile. The same sick smile.
With that his eyes closed again. I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I had something to do with this. I’m sure it was him I had seen on the photos. And I had pressed left.
I had to get out. Get help. I stumbled back to the door. There was no noise coming from outside so I carefully opened the door and walked outside.
“Oh, there you are! Hope you are ready for part two now”.
Judy. She was standing right in front of me, looking joyful as always. There was no way for me to escape I realized when two male nurses moved towards me. I thought about fighting them, finding a way to trick them but I realized there was no hope. I was too weak and there were three of them. So I followed them. I followed them down the hallway silently, crossing more rooms which I could only imagine were containing more ‘participants’. I numbly followed. I followed them through this gigantic, sterile hospital until we walked into a room that felt completely out of place.
It was a beautiful, old fashioned movie theatre, with red satin chairs and a screen as big as a wall at the end. The whole theatre was empty, except for one person sitting in the first row. The men led me towards him. From the back, I couldn’t recognize anything but then I saw his face. Bloody, beaten up, in his arm the same syringe.
Our eyes met but he looked empty, absent as if something had drained the life out of him. I tried to speak but didn’t know where to start. Then I saw Judy standing right in front of us, behind her the big screen.
“What did you do to him?” I shouted.
“Now now. Let’s all stay calm here alright. He did this to himself. We never hurt our participants. Especially not the most valuable ones. And now quiet. I’m about to start my speech.”
I could swear her smile disappeared for a second but there it was again.
“Welcome to the psych lab!” She continued in a cheerful voice. “Or should I say welcome back?“ She turned to me and winked. ”It was quite the trip wasn’t it? Oh well, you don’t remember,” her laugh echoed through the whole room “Let me just say you have been the toughest nuts to crack so far! But we would not expect less from you. Our two alphas. Most of our participants are, let’s say, more simple-minded. One or two trials and they give themselves over entirely. But this is about you and I can’t wait for us to start the next part, the next chapter. Are you ready for the show?”.
“STOP. Stop. I want out. Please. Let me go.” I whined.
“Ugh”, Judy sighed. For the first time she looked irritated, almost angry. “Really? You made it so far, passed so many rounds. And now- Of course you are always free to go, but think of all the progress you’ve made!”.
“Progress? What are you talking about?” I stood up from my chair, “I don’t remember ever coming here”.
“Well you did. You came here nine times, and nine times you decided to stop and leave at some point. But you always came back and you will again. We have your blood after all. You saw the photos. We control you. Owe you. Of course you could just save yourself the trouble and- ”.
“I WANT TO GO,” I shouted and looked over to number nine.
“Come with me, we need to find you a doctor,” I tried reaching for his arm. His eyes met mine once more, his gaze even more hopeless now. He looked at Judy and shook his head. “I want to see the show,” he whispered.
“Don’t worry, love, we have enough doctors here. We’ll take good care of him. And now off you go! Next time you can skip part one, just come straight back here. We’ll keep your bed warm.”