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Philip Zimbardo: Stanford Prison Experiment

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posted on Mar, 15 2007 @ 03:50 PM
Today I will be authoring two threads pertaining to two different experiments that were done in the 60's and 70's. The first of these two is the Standford Prison Experiment by Philip Zimbardo.

Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford prison experiment was a psychological study of the human response to captivity, in particular, to the real world circumstances of prison life and the effects of imposed social roles on behavior. It was conducted in 1971 by a team of researchers led by Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University. Undergraduate volunteers played the roles of guards and prisoners living in a mock prison built in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. Prisoners and guards rapidly adapted to their assigned roles, stepping beyond the boundaries of what had been predicted and leading to genuinely dangerous and psychologically damaging situations. One-third of guards were judged to have exhibited "genuine" sadistic tendencies, while many prisoners were emotionally traumatized and two had to be removed from the experiment early. Despite the now highly unsanitary and out of control conditions evident, only one of 50 observers, graduate interviewer Christina Maslach, objected to the experiment. Zimbardo then ended the experiment early.

Stanford Prison Experiment

This study was truly ground breaking and still astonishes me. A small group of undergrad students who had volunteered for this study, were slapped with this "label". Labels are everywhere in our society and I think they stand for too much. Well this study does it's fair share of work to reinforce that. Of the volunteers, each was randomly selected as either a "prisoner" or "guard". Those who were selected as "guards" were asked to jump in a squad car, drive around and pick up each one of the "prisoners" as if they were actually being arrested.

Within a day or two, the "prisoners" had truly assumed their roles. Depressed, aggressive, not respecting authority, even going as far to attempting to break out. The "guards" were even worse. They were abusing the prisoners, ridiculing them, taunting them, and really abusing the mock authority they had inherited. In less than two days, regular joes were transformed into radical prisoners and power hungry guards. The insertion of these labels, and the sense of superiority or inferiority, that comes with it, truly speaks volumes.

If you read the full article, you will see that after six days they had to stop the experiment. The volunteers had really detached themselves from reality and could not fathom that they were not "prisoners" and "guards", and that they were actually students who had volunteered for this.

In society, we have a lot of figures who have been known to abuse their power. For me personally, I see a lot of individuals in the education system that really have no place in it. I've worked with youth and witnessed them in the classroom setting, and I can see quite easily where the problem stems from. When the educator feels they are superior to the rest of the class, the class mates have two options. Accept that they are inferior or confront the teacher on this matter. Those who confront are deviant and we all know how the system stymies these children.

Why do we, in society, put so much emphasis into these "labels"?

The facts speak for themselves. University students transformed into monsters over night. Individuals who volunteered, tutored, etc., were given a false sense of authority, and quickly abused it. All with no regard for the victims of their crime.

There were no victims, there was just this "label".

I've got much to say on the subject, but I will stop at this point and open the door up for opinions on the matter.


The second of these two experiments can be found here:

Stanley Milgram: The Milgram Experiment

Be sure to check it out!

[edit on 15-3-2007 by chissler]

posted on Mar, 15 2007 @ 06:12 PM
I think the thing that is so neat about this is that even though everyone knew this was an experiement and it had no real value outside the control enviornment, the participants took on the roles so accutely, that they had to cut the experiment short.

I think it was also great to see that if you set up some social senarios, eg. putting some people in positions of power and putting others into positions of socially inferior positions, pretty horrific and stunning things can happen in a short space of time.

I think this was good that they used people of the same gender, color, and more or less the same socioeconomic background. I think this is good because we would other wise maybe have blamed gender, color, or economics for the behavior.

I think it is good to show that if you create these conditions in society, then the group you put into positions of authority and power have the real potential for abuse.

I think it's also good that it showed if you treat people like animals they will begin to act it out, and act accordingly.

I was surprised that within 3 days you had such changes in the participants, even though they all knew they had signed up for an experiment, the reality of the circumstances took over and they began to act accordingly.

I think what was also interesting was that the researchers got caught up in it as much as the students did, and were taking actions that had nothing to do with the experiment, but punishment of the prisoners.

It's a really interesting experiment for anyone that has the time. Very worthwhile to check it out.

posted on Mar, 15 2007 @ 06:19 PM
On the link listed above: you can purchase a copy of the documentary on the Stanford Prison Experiment. I'm currently looking at getting my hands on a copy so I can show it to the group of clients in the workshop I will be attending.

H, thank you for your thoughts/opinions on the experiment. (s) I look forward to hearing anything and everything from our membership, as I would love to fuel the fire for the presentation in two weeks.

I have fairly extensive opinions on it, but the members of ATS tend to look at things from a point of view that I had not considered. I am looking to learn a few things in regards to the social ramifications that came with this experiment.

In my opinion, this by far is the greatest and most controversial experiment to date. But I always withhold the right to change my mind.

[edit on 15-3-2007 by chissler]


posted on Mar, 21 2007 @ 03:48 AM
There was a programme on BBC 2 in 2001 which may be of interest regarding this:

    British ‘replication’ of the Stanford Prison Experiment - new publications

    Back in December 2001 British social psychologists Alex Haslam and Steve Reicher conducted a replication of Philip Zimbardo’s classic Stanford Prison Experiment. Fifteen male participants were divided into ‘prisoners’ and ‘guards’ and kept in a specially constructed ‘prison’ for eight days, in order to explore “theoretical ideas about the psychology of power and resistance, tyranny and order”. The whole experiment was filmed by the BBC and broadcast in the BBC2 programme “The Experiment”. The study was controversial, not only from an ethical standpoint, but also because it challenged many of the original Stanford findings, and Reicher and Haslam had to devote a fair amount of energy to defending themselves.

    Continued at source...

posted on Mar, 21 2007 @ 11:56 AM
This was a truly amazing experiment. We could probably write volumes about it, but I am going to start by discussing what I see as the most important parts for me right now.

Labeling theory
From a sociological standpoint, this experiment demonstrated that there is much validity in labeling theory. People will live up to (or down to) the expectations placed on them. Quite simply, if you put someone in a role, they will play it - perhaps far better than you expected them to.

A subject will do things that s/he might have considered repulsive only two or three days ago. ("Guards" being abusive.) Basic personality information can be rewritten in a very short time. ("Prisoners" refering to themselves by number.)

Real life application
Zimbardo should never have adopted a role in the experiment, but should have remained outside of it as an observer. The experiment was ended when an outsider came in and pointed out the degree to which things had gotten out of hand.

When the abuses at Abu Graib began to surface and groups of outsiders (Amnesty International, Red Cross, etc) were being denied access to the prison, I immediately thought about the Zimbardo prison experiment. How differently might things have gone if people from outside were routinely allowed access to the prison? The guards and administrators may be so entrenched in their roles that their judgement becomes clouded as to what should be allowed and what should not be allowed.

(If we combine this with Milgram's experiment on authority, we can almost look at the abuses in the prison as having been predictable instead of surprising.)

Personal lesson
I should take care when labeling others or placing them in roles. Am I empowering them in a positive way?

posted on Mar, 21 2007 @ 12:09 PM
It was actually Zimbardo's girlfriend, who was a student at the time, who entered to do some interviews that pushed to have this shut down. After it was concluded, a lot of the guards were very upset. Another component of this experiment that I found very interesting was that, Zimbardo offered the prisoners "parole" in return for not having to pay them. All of the inmates accepted this deal. After this, Zimbardo refused the parole but never once said that they were not permitted to leave. These individuals bought into the mentality that they were a prisoner, and they were not permitted to leave. The fact that this was a study, that was the farthest thing from their mind.

All of the items to express domination were key as well. Wooden batons, whistles, reflective sunglasses which did not permit eye contact, referring to the inmates as their number and not their name, etc., were all introduced to diminish the individual.

It clearly went overboard in my opinion, and was borderline criminal behaviour, but the results can not be refuted.

Guards, who were randomly selected, refused to allow the inmates to eat, they had some of them sleeping naked on the concrete floor, cleaning toilets with their bare hands, and putting a few of them in solitary confinement for hours. Even Zimbardo said he became to involved in the experiment. After one inmate attempted to escape, he wanted to move it into an actual prison at the police station. When they refused, he grew very irate. Without a doubt, he should of remained behind the scenes without a hands on approach. His involvement taints the results in my opinion, but very minimal.

The guards, plenty of them did not even return home after their shift. Many of them would stay for "over time", even though they were not getting paid. This authority went to their heads and corrupted them.

Speaks volumes, in my opinion.

We'll never see another study quite like this one.

Outside of Prison, does anyone know where I can get my hands on the footage of Quiet Rage: The Stanford Prison Experiment. I can hardly see how Zimbardo justifies charging over $100 for a one hour dvd.

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