Society and the Roles We Play/Zimbardo and the Hoax

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Psych 333: Social Psychology
Society and the Roles We Play/Zimbardo and the Hoax

As social human beings we encounter the powerful effects of roles every day. Whether you’re an experienced doctor or a propane truck driver, your roles are much more than just a small piece of a big picture. Our roles are in nature a social element that when used correctly can slightly or completely alter another’s. When used maliciously our roles can not only psychologically damage an individual or a handful of people, but also the masses. Adolf Hitler’s role as a chancellor changed the roles of normal German soldiers to genocidal henchmen which in turn changed the Jews’ roles as a race of beautiful people to what seemed like verminous animals needing extermination. The dynamics of social roles are not always this drastic but when they are, our life as we know it changes. To see how similar a real life tragedy and a staged study are with damaging effects of roles, it is important to analyze the Stanford Prison Experiment and a very horrible real life tragedy comparatively. In order to explain such a socially fascinating phenomenon as the Stanford Prison Experiment led by Zimbardo, we must first see what social psychological factors were at play. First it is important to know that all participants in this experiment including the prisoners, the guards, and the confederates gave their full consent to participate. This is important because the main method of this experiment would make the participants take on different roles. This method helped determine the purpose of this experiment which is whether or not the participants’ would perceive their roles as pretending or reality. This perception was shown through behavior from both prisoners and guards as a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is evident because the reciprocal behaviors expressed by the prisoner participants and the guard participants would amplify each other’s behavior. An increase of aggression causes an increase in submissiveness which in turn amplifies aggression and continuous into a vicious cycle. The experiment has been argued to have been unsuccessful; however the experiment contained a high amount of experimental realism. Although the experiment was unethical it yielded fascinating results from both the prisoners and the guards. First I believe it is important to analyze the behavior exhibited by the participants in the experiment. Prior to the experiment, the participants were in fact informed about the nature of the experiment and the moment they were arrested they would assume their roles as prisoners. A majority of the experiment was done inside of the prison. It was during this time that the prisoners displayed many social psychological behaviors that result from playing a submissive role. The progression of the experiment’s time also caused some of these interesting behaviors to amplify. It is important to understand that the underlining quality that the prisoners in this study exhibited was learned helplessness. This is predominantly evident when the prisoners’ acts of rebellion toward the guards diminish. This leaved the prisoners with an overall sense of helplessness. They were more likely to submit to the hostile and aggressive demands of the guards. Although some of the demands of the guards such as doing countless numbers of pushups would seem unethical in a real prison, even a participant assuming a false role as a prisoner follows such preposterous demands. What is more perplexing about this study was the fact that these participants in fact knew that they were not really guilty of any crime but as the experiment progressed and the guards became more aggressive the inmates displayed very passive behavior because they knew that their behaviors could not change the current predicament that they were in. Another remarkable concept that helped reinforce the participants’ roles as prisoners was the Saying-Becomes-Believing Effect. In...
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