What Can We Learn from the Stanford Prison Experiment?

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What can we learn from the Stanford Prison Experiment?

There is no doubt that the study conducted by Dr Philip Zimbardo in 1971 at Stanford University was extremely valuable to not only the Psychology profession, but also to all social science fields. He tested and selected participates to recreate a prison environment separating one group into two, guards and prisoners, and the results were truly ground breaking.

A lot of significant information was gathered and the results help us understand psychological processes and the changes in individuals submitted to an authoritarian system. College students were placed in a situation that caused a radical alteration to their behavioural patterns. For some of them it only took two days to reach a state of emotional breakdown and for other the effects had long term consequences. It was probably an exciting scenario for the psychologists involved in the study. There were a lot of dramatic changes in attitudes and some surprising reactions from the subjects selected as they were watched, recorded and analysed.

According to the leaders of the project no homosexual or racist practice would be tolerated and no physical punishment would be allowed to take place for ethical reasons. It was certainly ethical to forbid such actions. But how ethical were they? As said before, they were watching closely day in and day out but still they allowed severe psychological punishment to take place. Cruel actions were carried out by the ones that had the role of guards towards the ones acting as prisoners. And the fact that the organizers would give the “guards” a certain freedom to decide how to handle the “prisoners” suggested that they would be tolerant of their actions, however they decided to handle the persons under their “guard”.

Some participants were depressed and disturbed for being there and others would stay much longer than they were supposed to. It shows us the extreme impact that this unbalanced system had on...
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