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Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment Essay

This is a critique of an article published in Chronicle of Higher Education, (v53 n30 pB6 Mar. 30, 2007) on “Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment: a Lesson in the Power of Situation” by Philip G. Zimbardo. This article discusses issues related to how good people can turn bad.

SUMMARY

In this article, Zimbardo looks at his previous social experiment on physical abuse in prison and discusses the issues related to the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard, the social power of groups, and how people would behave if they were brought into direct confrontation; whether it would turn good people bad. The author discusses his past social experiment on physical abuse in prison that was conducted in the basement of the Stanford Psychology department.

PROBLEM SPECIFIED IN THE ARTICLE

One of many of studies in psychology, the Stanford Prison Experiment reveals from its usual set point, the extent to which human behavior can be transformed and are readily accepting a dehumanized conception of others. “Even to readily accepting a dehumanized conception of others, as ‘animals,’ and to accepting spurious rationales for why pain will be good for them,” (Zimbardo, 2007, p. 4). The Stanford Prison Experiment is compared to the Abu Ghraib situation, and also discussed are the implications of this research to the criminal justice system. The problems specified in the article addresses the social power of groups and as to whether a person¬†could be influenced to exert power over someone else.

The experiment called for twenty-four student participants to act as either a prisoner or a guard in the “prison” basement,” (Zimbardo, 2007, para 5). After the first day, the guards exercised their powers with increasing authority, forcing the prisoners to do things like making them say abusive things to each other and forcing them to participate in sexual perversion. The experiment was getting out of hand; Zimbardo himself was engrossed in his role. The problem with this experiment was that Zimbardo should have appointed someone with oversight over the whole project, in which could be terminated immediately if things were to go bad. This did not happen. Zimbardo was not only over the experiment, but he played the role of prison superintendent, but nobody to watch over him.

STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT COMPARED TO THE ABU GHRAIB SITUATION

In the Abu Ghraib situation, U.S. soldiers abused Iraqi prisoners, in which were stripped, and forced to wear bags over their heads, and were sexually humiliated. The guards would laugh and mock the prisoners while taking pictures of them in degrading positions. This abuse is similar to what took place in the Stanford Prison Experiment but in Stanford, the experiment was ended when it became known that the student guards were starting to do this to the student prisoners, unlike that of Abu Ghraib.

ANALYSIS OF THE DATA

The experiment was to last fourteen days but it was an outsider that made Zimbardo realize that he had gone too far. “That powerful jolt of reality snapped back into my senses. I agreed that we had gone too far, that whatever was to be learned about situational power was already indelibly etched on our videos, data logs, and minds,” (Zimbardo, 2007, p. 3). A colleague and fellow psychologist, Christina Maslach came to visit the mock prison and became very upset at what she witnessed.

She seen the emotional breakdown of the prisoners, who were “lined up with bags over their heads, their legs chained, and guards shouting abuses at them while herding them to the toilet, ” (Zimbardo, 2007, p. 3). Christina became very upset, and¬†yelled, “It is terrible what YOU are doing to those boys,” (Zimbardo, 2007, p. 4). Zimbardo realized what he had become in his newfound role and put an end to the experiment early on day 6. The criminal-justice system largely ignores situational forces and focuses primarily on individual defendants and their state of mind. Other factors should be considered by the criminal-justice system, such as what made them want to apply physical, psychological, and emotional abuse to the prisoners.

AUTHOR’S CONCLUSIONS

The author claims that people alone are incapable of criminal culpability. After reviewing the videotapes, Zimbardo argues “like the horrible behavior brought out by my experiment in good, normal young men, the situation and the system creating it also must share in the responsibility for illegal and immoral behavior,” (Zimbardo, 2007, p. 4). I am in agreement with the author in that the situation and the system creating it must also share in responsibility for illegal and immoral behavior because of the pressures of groupthink.

CONCLUSION

The Stanford Prison Experiment came about because at that time, social-science research did not have any studies with the direct confrontation of good versus evil against the forces inherent in bad situations. Psychologist Philip Zimbardo wanted to create a situation in a controlled experimental setting with “a host of variables, such as role-playing, coercive rules, power differentials, anonymity, group dynamics, and dehumanization, (Zimbardo, 2007, p. 1). The author wanted to know who would win if brought into direct confrontation; good people or an evil situation.

References

Zimbardo, P. G. (2007). Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment: a Lesson in the Power of Situation. _The Chronicle of Higher Education_, 53(30). Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA161992127&v=2.1&u=oran95108&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w.


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