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A Prison Experiment Replication in Another Culture
A team of researchers at the University of New South Wales, Australia extended the SPE by having one condition similar to ours and several other variants to explore how social organizations influence the relationship between prisoners and guards (Lovibond, Mithiran, & Adams, 1979). Their "Standard Custodial" regime was modeled on medium security prisons in Australia and was closest in its procedure to the SPE. The "Individualized Custodial" regime added guard training that encouraged prisoner self-respect while maintaining security. The "Participatory" regime went beyond custodial care to train guards to encourage constructive and responsible behavior among the prisoners. Six prisoners and four guards were randomly assigned to these three treatments for a four-day period. An equal number of participants were included in a replication of these three regimes. (There was a high degree of replicability of the results of all three simulations, one of the most compelling features of the experiment for the investigators.)
A constant undercurrent of hostility between prisoners and guards characterized the Standard Custodial regime. This role-playing simulation mimicked what was experienced in the SPE: hostile exchanges, arbitrary control, and harassment, frustrations, and insubordination. However, there was not the same sense among the prisoners of not being able to terminate their participation at will as happened in our study. The authors conclude, "It is clear that our Standard Custodial regime induced ordinary people with little knowledge and no experience of prisons, to behave in much the same way as prisoners and officers in real prisons. On the other hand, changes in the experimental prison regime produced dramatic changes in the relations between officer and prisoner subjects." (p. 283)
The Individualized Custodial regime developed a paternalistic atmosphere, with flat affect, and little hostility. Most benign was the Participatory regime, which created a general atmosphere of tolerance and cooperation: no hostility, and conflicts readily resolved within groups.
The researchers go on to summarize the central conclusion of their rigorous experimental protocol by noting, "Our results thus support the major conclusion of Zimbardo et al that hostile, confrontive relations in prisons result primarily from the nature of the prison regime, rather than the personal characteristics of inmates and officers." (Pp. 283, 285) These results, within this research design, also help offset skepticism about the validity of such simulation experiments by providing baselines to assess behavioral changes from objectively defined structural characteristics of real life prisons. In passing, I should add that one reason why there may have been less violence in this replication than in the SPE was the culturally determined afternoon tea break for all participants. Perhaps this procedure should be more widely instituted in all our prisons.