the Stanford Prison Experiment

http://www.stanford.edu/dept/news/relaged/970108prisonexp.html

The Stanford Prison Experiment

In the prison-conscious autumn of 1971, when George Jackson was killed at San Quentin and Attica erupted in even more deadly rebellion and retribution, the Stanford Prison Experiment made news in a big way. It offered the world a videotaped demonstration of how ordinary people ­ middle-class college students ­ can do things they would have never believed they were capable of doing. It seemed to say, as Hannah Arendt said of Adolf Eichmann, that normal people can take ghastly actions.

Details of the experiment are well known. They are included in most basic psychology texts and in a public television psychology course, “Discovering Psychology,” that Zimbardo wrote and narrates. Movie rights have been optioned, “60 Minutes” has filmed a segment on the experiment, and even a punk rock band in Los Angeles calls itself Stanford Prison Experiment.

In summary:

On Sunday morning, Aug., 17, 1971, nine young men were “arrested” in their homes by Palo Alto police. At least one of those arrested vividly remembers the shock of having his neighbors come out to watch the commotion as TV cameras recorded his hand-cuffing for the nightly news.

The arrestees were among about 70 young men, mostly college students eager to earn $15 a day for two weeks, who volunteered as subjects for an experiment on prison life that had been advertised in the Palo Alto Times. After interviews and a battery of psychological tests, the two dozen judged to be the most normal, average and healthy were selected to participate, assigned randomly either to be guards or prisoners. Those who would be prisoners were booked at a real jail, then blindfolded and driven to campus where they were led into a makeshift prison in the basement of Jordan Hall.

Those assigned to be guards were given uniforms and instructed that they were not to use violence but that their job was to maintain control of the prison.

From the perspective of the researchers, the experiment became exciting on day two when the prisoners staged a revolt. Once the guards had crushed the rebellion, “they steadily increased their coercive aggression tactics, humiliation and dehumanization of the prisoners,” Zimbardo recalls. “The staff had to frequently remind the guards to refrain from such tactics,” he said, and the worst instances of abuse occurred in the middle of the night when the guards thought the staff was not watching. The guards’ treatment of the prisoners ­ such things as forcing them to clean out toilet bowls with their bare hands and act out degrading scenarios, or urging them to become snitches ­ “resulted in extreme stress reactions that forced us to release five prisoners, one a day, prematurely.”

Zimbardo’s primary reason for conducting the experiment was to focus on the power of roles, rules, symbols, group identity and situational validation of behavior that generally would repulse ordinary individuals. “I had been conducting research for some years on deindividuation, vandalism and dehumanization that illustrated the ease with which ordinary people could be led to engage in anti-social acts by putting them in situations where they felt anonymous, or they could perceive of others in ways that made them less than human, as enemies or objects,” Zimbardo told the Toronto symposium in the summer of 1996.

“I wondered, along with my research associates Craig Haney, Curtis Banks and Carlo Prescott, what would happen if we aggregated all of these processes, making some subjects feel deindividuated, others dehumanized within an anonymous environment in the same experimental setting, and where we could carefully document the process over time.”

full article on the ineternet at: http://www.stanford.edu/dept/news/relaged/970108prisonexp.html

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s