The Stanford Prison Experiment – Phillip Zimbardo
Headed by Phillip Zimbardo, the Stanford Prison Experiment was designed with the aim of investigating how readily people would behave and react to the roles given to them within a simulated prison. The experiment showed that the social expectations that people have of specific social situations can direct and strongly influence behaviour. The concepts evident in the Stanford Prison Experiment include social influence, and within that, conformity. The experiment also greatly showed how external attribution can overpower internal attribution of individuals; in this case, the participants behaved in ways extreme as compared to how they would usually behaved as individuals. In one way or another, these concepts are very closely linked and sometimes work hand in hand. The concept of social influence revolves around the notion that one’s personal thoughts, emotions, and beliefs are affected by the happenings around them, which can take place in the form of social norms and conformity. Conformity is the change in behaviour to go along with a group’s beliefs or behaviour (Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004) due to the real or imagined influence of others (Kiesler & Kiesler, 1969). In social circumstances, people are inclined to worry about rejection, so they reduce the worry by copying the actions of those around them (Giles & Oxford, 1970). Of social influence, three kinds of attitude were identified: compliance, identification, and internalisation (Kelman, 1958). Obedience to authority is also a form of social influence where an individual acts in response to a direct order from another individual who is a figure of authority. Obedience involves an order of power in which the lower ranking individual would be obliged to obey the high ranker individual, whereas conformity happens through social pressures such as the norms of the majority (McLeod, 2007) People tend to use the concept of attribution to explain behavioural change. There are two types of attribution: external and internal. External attribution is believed to be caused by situational inducements, whereas in contrast, internal attribution would steer more towards the operation of an individual’s personality, morals, and even genes (American Psychological Association, 2004). The Stanford Prison Experiment exerts that situational factors do matter.
In the Stanford Prison experiment, participants were randomly assigned to their roles, either as a prison guard or a prisoner. Within a short time span, the two groups were conforming greatly to their roles. In one instance, guards made the prisoners chant “Prisoner 819 did a bad thing!” out loud as a group in an effort to blame and breakdown a prisoner for his disobedience. The fact that the prisoners did as they were told was due to the social norm among the prisoners: they were supposed to do as they were told or else they were punished as a group. Social norms are identified to be implicit or explicit rules for acceptable behaviour, values, and beliefs within the group (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955; Miller & Prentice, 1996). As such, there are expectations and standards of how to behave for individuals in a group to uphold. Individuals who choose to behave differently and not conform are labelled as deviants. As a result of their non-conforming behaviours, deviants can be derided, ignored, or even face rejection from their group (Miller & Anderson, 1979; Kruglanski & Webster, 1991). This is seen when the rest of the prisoners repeatly chant “Prisoner 819 did a bad thing!”; Prisoner 819 was cast out from the group. As a group, the rest of the prisoners chose to accept the tyranny of the guards rather than to risk further unnecessary harassment from the prison guards (Zimbardo, 2007). Individuals conform for normative reasons, doing what others are doing, because they do not want to attraction attention or face oppression from...
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