Put in the right circumstances, every human being has the potential to be a sadist. In "The Stanford Prison Experiment", Phillip G. Zimbardo examines how easily people can slip into roles and become sadistic to the people around them, even going so far as to develop a sense of supremacy. He does this by explaining the results of his experiment that he created to understand more about the effects that imprisonment has on prisoners, and how a prison environment affects the guards who work there. In her article "The Abu Ghraib Prison Scandal: Sources of Sadism", Marianne Szegedy-Maszak looks at the Abu Ghraib atrocities and the possible reasons why "normal" people turned into sadists who committed unfathomable acts of torture. Although Szegedy-Maszak and Zimbardo both suggest that every person has the potential to be a torturer, Zimbardo's experiment adds specificity to Szegedy-Maszak's claims. Szegedy-Maszak speaks generally about dehumanization, whereas Zimbardo uses his experiment to delve deeper into despotism and the role it plays in prisons; the evidence of dehumanization in prison environments is further complicated by the notion of internal and external attitudes.
Szegedy-Maszak and Zimbardo recognize that every human being can become someone who delights in the pain of others. Dehumanization is a key element in this change from a caring person to a sadist. According to Robert Okin, a professor of psychiatry, dehumanization allows people to "sever any empathetic human connection" (Szegedy-Maszak 304) they may have felt towards a person. Through interviews and studies, Zimbardo discovered that prisoners often report feeling dehumanized; his goal was to incorporate this feeling into his prison if possible. While conducting his experiment, he saw a degree of dehumanization occur that was astounding for the short period of time that the study was carried out. Szegedy-Maszak says that authorization leads to routinization, which ultimately leads to dehumanization. She claims that these three traits were present at Abu Ghraib.
In Zimbardo's experiment, a group of twenty-one college-age males were put into a mock prison located in the basement of the Stanford University psychology building. The people chosen to participate were evaluated to make sure they were "normal" men. Participants were then divided into two groups, guards and prisoners, by the flip of a coin. The prisoners were assigned three to a cell and hidden microphones recorded their conversations. The guards were informed that they were responsible for maintaining order in the prison. The first day of the experiment was relatively uneventful; however, by the second day tensions had arisen due to a rebellion and relations between the prisoners and guards progressively worsened. Everyone involved in the experiment became so engrossed in their roles and their behavior became so disturbing that the two week study had to be concluded after only six days.
Szegedy-Maszak states, "In Vietnam the enemy became 'slopes', and in Iraq they're 'towel heads' (Szegedy-Maszak 304). In other words, belittling slang terms for a race of people become instituted and widely used, especially during times of war. Iraqis, and Middle Easterners in general, have come to be derogatorily referred to as "towel heads". Zimbardo says the guards "referred to them [prisoners] in impersonal, anonymous, deprecating ways: 'Hey, you' or 'You [obscenity], 5401, come here' (Zimbardo 350). These two statements by Szegedy-Maszak and Zimbardo together illustrate how words can be used to dehumanize someone. By using deprecating monikers, the name-caller can group together an entire race of people into one anonymous mass where one person of the race is no different than the next. Deindividualization in the form of degrading names is prevalent in almost all prisons, and it was also present in Zimbardo's experiment.
Dehumanization is present in all prisons. For example, in many prisons inmates are...
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