Much has been made of Ted Kaczynski’s involvement with Henry Murray’s psychological studies on Harvard undergraduates, mostly because the studies, and Murray’s work in general, have been linked to the CIA’s MKULTRA program. In his Atlantic article, “Harvard and the Making of the Unabomber,” Alston Chase writes:
…from the fall of 1959 through the spring of 1962, Harvard psychologists, led by Henry A. Murray, conducted a disturbing and what would now be seen as ethically indefensible experiment on twenty-two undergraduates. To preserve the anonymity of these student guinea pigs, experimenters referred to individuals by code name only. One of these students, whom they dubbed “Lawful,” was Theodore John Kaczynski, who would one day be known as the Unabomber, and who would later mail or deliver sixteen package bombs to scientists, academicians, and others over seventeen years, killing three people and injuring twenty-three…
Through research at the Murray Center and in the Harvard archives I found that, among its other purposes, Henry Murray’s experiment was intended to measure how people react under stress. Murray subjected his unwitting students, including Kaczynski, to intensive interrogation—what Murray himself called “vehement, sweeping, and personally abusive” attacks, assaulting his subjects’ egos and most-cherished ideals and beliefs.
Chase goes on to suggest that the studies impacted Kaczynski immensely, and could have been a main reason he later embarked on his 18-year terror campaign as F.C. A recent TV series, Manhunt: Unabomber, recapitulates the idea. But a number of people responded negatively to Chase’s article shortly after its publication, calling Chase’s research “nonsense” and “only speculations.” Read my own rebuttal in the Dark Mountain article, “Ted Kaczynski and Why He Matters.”
Kaczynski himself denies that the study had much of an impact on him, writing:
Actually there was only one unpleasant experience in the Murray study; it lasted about half an hour and could not reasonably have been described as “traumatic.” Mostly the study consisted of interviews and filling out pencil-and-paper personality tests. The CIA was not involved.
About 15 or 20 years ago a TV journalist named Chris Vlasto … looked up some of the other participants in the study and found that nothing had happened that was worth reporting in the media…
The transcripts from the study seem to reaffirm Kaczynski’s point. Though presumably the bulk of the experiment consisted in the untranscribable aspects of communication, like tone and body language, the transcriptions themselves are banal. In any case, here are the transcripts for readers:
Download PDF: Henry Murray Psychological Study Transcripts