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Stanford Prison Experiment

Stanford Prison Experiment, Social Psychology

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Stanford Prison Experiment

  1. 1. The Stanford Prison Experiment
  2. 2. Background By 1971, many people in the United States had participated in protests and riots over issues like civil rights and theVietnam war. More young people were going to jail, and at the same time, more reports of police brutality were being reported by the press.This atmosphere inspired the Stanford Prison experiment. How does perceiving yourself as an authority figure influence your behavior?
  3. 3. The Experiment The experiment was conducted in 1971 and led Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo. 24 male college students from the U.S. and Canada were paid $15 per day to participate. These candidates were chosen because they were mentally and physically healthy. They were also very similar in age, education, race, and social class. Because of their similarities, at the start of the experiment they considered each other equals.
  4. 4. The Experiment A random coin flip assigned 50% of the subjects to the role of “prison guard” and 50% to the role of “prisoner.” The guards were given no training about how to be guards: they made up their own set of prison rules. Over the course of the experiment, they treated the prisoners just as they would be treated in a real jail…
  5. 5. Initial Prisoner Treatment Blindfolded upon arrival Strip searched and inspected for lice Given ID numbers and hair caps Forced to wear ankle chains
  6. 6. Video
  7. 7. Guard & Prisoner Behavior • The punishments invented by the guards became more severe and creative as the experiment went on. Disobedient prisoners were forced to do push-ups, placed in solitary confinement, had their beds and other items taken away, and were verbally harassed. • There were three “guard styles” according to researchers: first, there were tough but fair guards who followed prison rules. Second, there were "good guys" who did little favors for the prisoners and never punished them. And finally, about 1/3 of the guards were hostile, cruel, and inventive in their forms of prisoner humiliation. • The prisoners initially resisted being treated poorly (there was a rebellion on the second day), but when punishments became harsher, they obeyed. • Prisoner #8612 experienced disorganized thinking, uncontrollable crying, and rage, and left the experiment. A few other prisoners left later on. • The experiment felt so real to the participants that even though the researchers said they could quit, the prisoners felt that they couldn’t. The researchers also started to forget that the experiment wasn’t real, and tried to cover up the abuses they witnessed.
  8. 8. Experiment Conclusions 1. 1/3 of guards became violent and cruel towards the prisoners, showing us how an authority position can alter a person’s behavior. 2. Our behavior is drastically affected by the situation: to prevent evil behavior, don’t focus on changing individuals, focus on changing the situations that enable them to behave badly.
  9. 9. Social Forces Involved: 1. Deferral of responsibility to authority: when you think that the authority figure will take responsibility forYOUR bad behavior. 2. Diffusion of responsibility: spreading the responsibility out between many people. You feel less responsible for doing something bad if other people are also involved. 3. Identity change: wearing a uniform makes you into a “different person” than you are on a normal day. If many people wear the same uniform, it makes you feel more anonymous. 4. Power of the situation: we all have good and bad character traits that reveal themselves depending on the situation.
  10. 10. Discussion Questions: 1. After the study, how do you think the prisoners and guards felt when they saw each other in the civilian clothes again? 2.Was it ethical to do this study? Was it right to trade the suffering experienced by participants for the knowledge gained by the research? Would it be better if this study had never been done? 3.What actions could have prevented the guards from abusing the prisoners?

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Stanford Prison Experiment, Social Psychology


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