Prison Experiment Support Deprivation Theory

Topics: Stanford prison experiment, Prison, Milgram experiment Pages: 5 (1629 words) Published: April 13, 2011
Prison Experiment Support Deprivation Theory
Nick McCoy
University of Iowa

Philip G. Zimbardo in a pursuit to analyze the results of placing society accepted “good” people in an evil place constructed an experiment which represented a simulation of prison life. Ordinary middle class males were placed in a situation to monitor activities and behavior these males displayed when subject to the harsh environments of a prison. The results of the experiment were much more detrimental than expected, in a small amount of time the guards became sadistic and the prisoners displayed signs of depression and extreme stress. This behavior demonstrated by the participants can be explained by the theory of deprivation. This essay will argue that the guards successfully used deprivations to enact severe psychological stresses on the inmates throughout the experiment, which is the reasoning this experiment was stopped early. This essay will begin by outlining the basic set-up and results of the Zimbardo experiment. This will be followed by an analysis of deprivation theory and how the deprivation theory influenced both the guards and prisoners to act uncharacteristically as individuals. Philip G. Zimbardo assembled a team and arranged the experiment to demonstrate the idea that the personality traits of prisoners and guards were keys to understanding abusive prison situations. Twenty four predominantly white middle class males out of seventy five respondents were selected, they were declared to be the most psychologically stable and healthy. Participants were told they would participate in a two-week prison simulation. The location of the experiment was the basement of Stanford’s Jordan Hall; Zimbardo declared himself the “prison warden” and arranged a number of specific circumstances to encourage depersonalization, disorientation, and de-individualization. The participants selected to play the role of prisoners were arrested at their homes and charged with armed robbery, taken to Palo Alto police department for fingerprinting, mug shots and then strip-searched, given a identification number as their new identity. Prisoners were outfitted with very uncomfortable fitting smocks and stocking caps with their ankles chained and were identified only by their assigned numbers sewn on their uniforms to constantly remind them of their roles as prisoners. The participants selected to play the roles of guards were provided wooden batons, khaki shirt, generic pants, and mirrored sunglasses. These accessories were intended to establish their guard status to the prisoners. The guards were directed to influence the prisoners in negative ways, they were ordered by Zimbardo as qoute, "You can create in the prisoners feelings of boredom, a sense of fear to some degree, you can create a notion of arbitrariness that their life is totally controlled by us, by the system, you, me, and they'll have no privacy... We're going to take away their individuality in various ways. In general what all this leads to is a sense of powerlessness. That is, in this situation we'll have all the power and they'll have none."(Zimbardo, 1999) On the second day of the experiment a riot broke out with the prisoners blockading their cell door. The guards responded with attacking the prisoners with fire extinguishers and began using psychological tactics to control the prisoners. Also on the second day one of the prisoners was released because he suffered severe rage and insecurity. Guards became increasingly cruel as they fully embraced their role and routinely used these psychological tactics to declare their superiority over the prisoners. For example, as punishment guards would not let prisoners empty the sanitation bucket or would refuse to allow prisoners to urinate or defecate, which quickly led to declined sanitary conditions for the prisoners. Guards would also remove the prisoner’s mattresses, which were viewed as a valued item, as a form of punishment. Some...

References: Zimbardo, P. (1999). Standford prison experiment. Retrieved from
Sykes, G. (2007). The society of captives: a study of a maximum security prison. Princeton Univ Pr.
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