In the 1960s, the social psychology research of Stanley Milgram brought public scrutiny to the issues of (1) informed consent in experiments using deception and (2) the potential for psychological harm in research.
Milgram recruited subjects through a newspaper advertisement to participate in a study of "memory and learning." The experiment lasted an hour, and subjects received payment for participation.
Three people participated in each experiment: a scientist, a "teacher" (the volunteer), and a "learner." Learners were asked to match word pairs. When the learner responded incorrectly, the scientist instructed the teacher/volunteer to administer an electric shock to the learner. As the experiment progressed, a control panel indicated the shocks increasing from 15 to 450 volts. Roughly one-third of the way through the experiment, the learner typically demanded that the experiment stop. Two-thirds of the way through, the learner typically became silent and nonresponsive.
Milgram found that 60% of his teachers/volunteers would follow the scientist's directions and administer the complete sequence of shocks.
At the end of the experiment, Milgram disclosed to the teacher/volunteer that he was actually studying people's obedience to authority figures and that the learner had received no shocks. The learner was actually an actor pretending to be shocked.
When Milgram published his findings in 1963, peer and public debate focused on the way deception undermined informed consent in this study. Further, the experiment came under criticism for placing volunteers in the extremely stressful position of believing they were administering severe punishment to other people.