The Standford Prison Experiment
Professor Philip Zimbardo led a team of researchers in conducting an experiment on prison life at Standford University in 1971. Zimbardo wanted to test his hypothesis that it was the prisoners and guards inherent personality trait that leads to abusive and violent behavior in the prisons. Twenty-four predominately white male middle class men agreed to participate in a 7-14 day experiment in return for $15.00 a day, the equivalent of approximately $90.00 today. The men underwent a diagnostic interview and personality test to unsure that none of the participants suffered from any psychological or medical problems and that there was no history of crime or drug abuse. As simple as flipping a coin the men were divided into two groups, prisoners and guards. The guards were not given any special training or instructions other than they were free, within limits, to do whatever they liked to maintain law and order, while maintaining respect from the prisoners. The prisoners on the other hand knew they were going to get some harassment, lose some privacy and civil rights and that the food was not going to be gourmet. What happened next, in that secluded basement could not have been for seen by researchers because the experiment was cancelled on day six of a fourteen day experiment. A mock prison was set–up in the basement of the Stanford’s Psychology Department building, where the prisoners were kept in small windowless cells, no clocks and just enough room for 3 prisoners. There was also a room called “The Hole” that was used for solitary confinement that measured about two feet by two feet and was very dark. Video cameras and intercoms were set up in order to monitor and listen to the discussions of the prisoners. Upon arrival the prisoners were humiliated with a strip search, deloused with a spray, dressed in a numbered uniform of a smock like dress with no under wear and their hair was netted to give the appearance of being shaved. There right ankle was shackled with a heavy chain, that was intended to be a constant reminder that they were imprisoned and that life was oppressive in jail.
A brief description of the experiment and its purpose.
What was learned through this experiment?
After reading this experiment, it may be safe to say, that we all have a dark side depending on the conditions we are exposed to. The experiment showed that the participants easily adapted to their roles that they were playing, beyond the expectations of the researchers. Just like in the movies, participants began to adapt similar attitudes to their characters, stereotypical of a prisoner or guard. It didn’t take longer than 24 hours for the prisoners to rebel and then the anger, abuse of power and domination set in with the guards. The guards began to treat the prisoners with force, stripped some of the prisoners naked, removing their beds from the cell and forcing them to sleep on the cold concrete floor. The ring leader was separated and put into solitary confinement. Day after day the violence and abuse escalated and began to include psychological tactics, like having a privileged cell, where three prisoners were given special treatment of sleeping on beds, eating special food, being allowed to wash and brush their teeth. It was easy to see that it didn’t take long for the participants to lose sight that this was an experiment and not reality. Prisoners had lost their identity, they believed and referred to themselves as their number, that was demonstrated by prisoner #819 who completely believed he was an inmate in a prison. The guards were enjoying the abuse of power, never being late for work and always willing to stay and work over time for no additional pay. The experiment demonstrated that our conditions start to define our identity. Our individuality and morals disappear fast depending on the social conditions. We must be very careful with the people we...
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