Stanford Prison Experiment
Stanford Prison Experiment
The goal of this experiment “To study the behavioral and psychological consequences in becoming a prisoner or prison guard.” (Zimbardo) Before the experiment, many of the applicants were given a test conducted to see if anyone was or had any mental or physical health issues. They needed healthy and strong participants. There was no psychological difference between prisoners and prison guards. There were rules for the guards. They could not physically harm or hit the prisoners, (ensuring everyones “safety”). The experiment was supposed to go for two weeks but had to end only on the sixth day due to rapidly increasing suffering from the prisoners. We see only on the second day the prison guards struggling to find their identity and prisoners taunting the guards. The guards had to hold their stand over the prisoners and to do this; they needed to interact with the prisoners on a daily basis multiple times a day.
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By the third day were making them do push-ups, forcing them to urinate and defecate into buckets and even put them into solitary confinement. The guards wore reflective sun glasses and felt it was easier to punish the prisoners because the prisoners couldn’t see them or look them in their eyes. They felt a form of anonymity. Later in the week, the guards rewarded the prisoners who weren’t acting up with a bed or a shower. Prisoner 8612 started to show a breakdown and was going through out the cells saying that none of them could get out or quit. This is when the prisoners realized that this was really a prison and accepted their roles as prisoners. They also had to count off their numbers to make them feel that, that was all they were. They had to feel isolated and out of control. Prisoner 8612 showed signs of mental illness and started to go crazy and was released. What we can learn from just the first thirty six hours of this experiment and what this experiment clearly shows is that a controlled setting and environment really has an effect on our behavior. The social environment begins to define the individuals. (The prisoners really start to think they’re in a prison) Researching some regarding the ethics of this experiment, at first I thought oh my goodness, this is crazy how these men were treated and how wrong it was to do. But looking into it, all participants were given informed consent, it was approved by the review board and later on, the APA reviewed it and said that all of the ethics had been followed correctly.
So since it followed all the rules, it couldn’t be bad. I also researched about the participants and through checkups and psych evaluations, none of them had lasting trauma from the experiment. So I came to the conclusion that this experiment though it seemed extreme, the results offer a lot and it was definitely worth it. But I am fully aware that it could never be reconstructed again due to todays’ ethical codes. I found it interesting that this experiment required a lot of conformity and obedience and that Zimbardo was researching it. Looking into, it came to that Zimbardo was a classmate and close colleague with Stanley Milgram who is famously known for his obedience experiment. Zimbardo wanted to expand Milgrams work and investigate it on human behavior. There were interesting similarities I saw between Milgram and Zimbardos’ experiment. Both regarding a sense of anonymity by the person who was causing the pain or torture; we see in Milgrams that more people pressed the buttons that would send an electrical shock to another person.
And in Zimbardos’ the guards felt it because the prisoners couldn’t look them in their eyes. This experiment very clearly shows obedience and conformity from both the prison guards and prisoners. The prisoners who did rebel at first realized it’d just be easier to do what the guards said. And the guards would become harsher with their punishments. We can apply this not only to this experiment but to other events that have happened around the world, such as Abu Ghraib and even in World War II and the Nazis. People will begin to follow authority figures, even when it becomes cruel and abusive. This experiment and these horrible events show that it is very easy for people to not only conform and follow authority, but how the authority can so quickly become very violent. This has to be a reflection on humans in nature. That maybe we are born with a dark side.