There are so many different theories out there that try to explain why we act the way we act. How do we explain evil or hateful behavior? I just finished reading the article ‘’Prison Violence: Does brutality come with a badge?’’, written by: Bruce Gross. This article talks about being a prison guard, and how some people act when they enter this career. Would you act differently if you went from the role of the prisoner to the role of the prison guard?
There have been many reports of ‘’cruel and unusual’’ punishment that is being administered by prison guards to inmates in prisons. Not only are inmates reporting this abuse, but federal authorities are also recognizing there is a problem. In 2005, the commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons said there were 16,000 allegations of sexual and physical assault that were reported. There are also reports of abuse happening in County jails as well as in prisons. ‘’Inmates have reported being choked, kicked, punched, and hit with objects by single or multiple guards’’, (Gross, 2008).
If you look back at our history, it is full of ordinary people who commit terrible acts of violence. Some people have done studies and are trying to understand why people commit these ‘’evil crimes’’. Stanley Milgram is one of those people. He was a Yale University professor, who conducted an experiment in 1961. In this experiment there were ‘’teachers’’ and there were ‘’learners. The teachers were given the power to administer a shock to the learners if they answered a question wrong. It was surprising how much the ‘’teachers’’ in the experiment would shock the ‘’learners’’ and the amount of volts that they would use without protest.
Another experiment that was done to test these violent behaviors was known as the Stanford Prison Experiment. In August of 1971, this experiment was started by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo. He put an ad in the paper and found volunteers to play role of ‘’prisoner’’ and the role of ‘’guard’’. He created a prison-like environment in the basement of the psychology building on the Stanford Campus. There was some definite brutality that started to show in the guards during this experiment. Some showed more than others. After only 6 days, the experiment was shut down. One third (1/3) of these ‘’guards’’ showed sadistic behavior.
There was a similar study done that was called the BBC Prison Study. This study was also shut down early. ‘’Both of these prison studies demonstrated that under some circumstances, some individuals resist going-with-the flow of group associated brutality’’, (Gross, 2008).
Sometimes an individual will behave differently if they know they’re being watched. In the SPE experiment, the participants knew they were being watched by ‘’supervisors’’, and on the BBC experiment, they knew they were being watched by an audience (including family and friends). These factors may have affected the way that either group acted throughout the experiment. I know I would act differently if I knew that my mother was watching me.
Some people think it’s the environment that people are in that brings out violence. Well of course it is! If you treat someone like a caged animal, eventually they will start acting like one. If a guard is told to dehumanize a prisoner, then you will probably see violence out of the guards, as well as out of the prisoners. ‘’Violence and extreme behaviors by guards against inmates have many sources’’, (Gross, 2008). In the prison studies that were covered in this article, it didn’t surprise the experimenters that ‘’good people’’ were committing evil acts when they played the role of the guards. They were more surprised and shocked that more people didn’t stand up for what was right. Even if they didn’t agree with what was happening, they just kept their mouth shut, and went with the flow. At the end of the article, Gross says, ‘’Perhaps the adage is true, that real evil exists and flourishes when good people do nothing’’.