Zimbardo’s Prison experiment / Stanford Prison Experiment : 

Hi everyone! This is the first time I have tried posting something related to my field, I am sure there would be a lot of mistakes, spelling errors, the content wouldn’t be upto mark, etc. Your feedback would mean a lot.♥️♥️


The Stanford Prison Experiment or the Zimbardo Prison Experiment as it has named famously has been the highlight in almost all of my Introduction Psychology Textbooks right from my 11th grade, the reason why I selected this experiment as my essay topic is because, this experiment even though it ended abruptly was one of the highly controversial as well as an intriguing study that help shed light on a many important aspects of social psychology ( conformity and obedience) as well as opened doors for new ethical guidelines which this study gazed with thick black tinted glasses as the ones they gave out to their guards. This is my take on this topic.

On 14th August 1971, a healthy and wise student of Stanford college was arrested by the police officer and was taken away to the mock Prison setting Zimbardo and his colleagues set up right in the basement of the college.According to Zimbardo the real reason he started this experiment was because he wanted to investigate whether people would conform to the social roles of a prison guard or prisoner, when placed in a mock prison environment.

He also wanted to examine whether the behavioral changes the participants underwent was due to their internal dispositional factors, the people themselves, or external situational factors, the environment and conditions of the prison.(Bleske-Rechek, A. L. (2001)

According to Zimbardo the real reason he started this experiment was because he wanted to investigate whether people would conform to the social roles of a prison guard or prisoner, when placed in a mock prison environment.

He also wanted to examine whether the behavioral changes the participants underwent was due to their internal dispositional factors, the people themselves, or external situational factors, the environment and conditions of the prison.(Bleske-Rechek, A. L. (2001)

Twenty- one college students agreed to be a part of this experiment on the basis that they would be paid 15 dollar a day to take part and after undergoing various physiological and mental tests Zimbardo and colleagues had randomly assigned half the participants to be guards and the other to be prisoners by the flip of a coin. (Zimbardo, 1971)

The first day all the guards were dressed in identical uniforms of khaki, they carried a big billy club borrowed from the police, a whistle around their neck, and they all wore special sun-glasses.(Zimbardo, 1971)

During the time the study was conducted, an investigation of this experiment was conducted by the APA in 1973 and they concluded that the Stanford Prison Experiment did satisfy all the existing professional ethical standards, thus if we were to see this experiment from the experimenters point of view, they had not violated any ethical guidelines back then.

But after many decades of viewing and reading this historically notorious study, one can point out more than a few codes of ethics that were disregarded in this study.

In the Stanford Prison Experiment, the prisoners ( who were actually students ) were subjected to emotional trauma that ranged from moderate to high levels of emotional trauma, this can be pointed out right from the beginning of the experiment. When the prisoners were taken away or “Arrested” right from their house, ( about which no mention was made, for it was an impromptu arrest), they were also checked by a real police officer and were handcuffed and then individually taken to the prison, later on they were fingerprinted, photographed ( Mugshot) and “booked” like an actual offender.

When the prisoners were taken away or “Arrested” right from their house, ( about which no mention was made, for it was an impromptu arrest), they were also checked by a real police officer and were handcuffed and then individually taken to the prison, later on they were fingerprinted, photographed ( Mugshot) and “booked” like an actual offender.

After which they were blindfolded and were left off to a room in the made up prison, wherein they were stripped naked, were also assigned numbers in place of their actual names and their actual clothes was replaced by a smock with their number written and were presented with no underclothes. They also had a tight nylon cap to cover their hair, and a locked chain around one ankle.Mcleod, S. (2020)

This was all only about their appearance but if we were to see the way these prisoners were treated in the initial days of this abruptly ended study was that they were also mistreated, called out names, sexually teased, stripped naked, given vague punishments ( doing multiple push ups, cleaning the bathroom seat by their bare hands, etc) Along with all the other emotional trauma which went far away for one of the prisoner, who after 36 hours of the experiment was crying uncontrollably and screaming. These above mentioned practises in today’s time would be disregarding the Standard Code 3.04 ( APA, 2016) That requires the researcher to avoid harm and to maximize harm where it is unavoidable.

The guards in this experiment, too were fully engulfed in their roles, they would act hostile towards the prisoners, on the second day when the prisoners broke out in a chaos, they disregarded all the jail norms, threw away the clothes and removed the numbers of their uniform and locked the door to their cells, the real or rather the assigned role play actual came in reality, the guards tried to break in the cell through fire extinguishers, would strip the prisoners naked, would lock them up in a confined room, wouldn’t allow disobedient prisoners to eat certain meals, or serve them bad good.

The Standard Code 2.01A and 2.01C (APA,2016) which requires researchers to only conduct studies that are within their boundaries of competencies based on education, training and supervised experience was also disregarded in its totality, for in an article written in the Stanford Magazine that reflected on the participants feelings, Zimbardo admitted that he himself did not have any firsthand knowledge about Prions before conducting this experiment.

The other code of conduct which was disregarded was code 8.02 (APA, 2016) which requires researchers to inform participants of their right to decline to participate and to withdraw from research once participation has begun.
Interestingly, Zimbardo agreed that he had allowed the prisoner #819 to leave the experiment after he bursted out and started crying uncontrollably, the other prisoner which later came out and shared his part of experience namely, Richardo Yacco, said that when he asked Zimbardo’s team if he could quit the experiment, he was told that he couldn’t for he himself agreed to be there for the full experiment. Greenfield, R. (2013, October 30)


Interestingly, Zimbardo agreed that he had allowed the prisoner #819 to leave the experiment after he bursted out and started crying uncontrollably, the other prisoner which later came out and shared his part of experience namely, Richardo Yacco, said that when he asked Zimbardo’s team if he could quit the experiment, he was told that he couldn’t for he himself agreed to be there for the full experiment. Greenfield, R. (2013, October 30)

The study also failed to debrief participants until several years later, at which point it was difficult to assess what level of psychological harm had occurred as a result of participation in the experiment. Though Zimnbardo in an interview noted that none of his participants unwent any kind of long lasting emotional or psychological harm or trauma, Lastly, Deception has been highlighted constantly if not criticized by a lot of researchers, for the participants were aware about the general idea of the prison life they would experience but the reality they experience was not outlined sufficiently.

The part where Zimbardo himself takes part in this experiment, that just adds to more of his own biases in this experiment given the stake that he was the Superintendent of the Prison, also given the fact that this experiment was not clearly defined in the terms of Iv and DV, in a film remake of his experiment wherein they used the real footages of the SPE, I could observe that, when a Stanford Researcher asked Zimbardo what the IV of the Experiment was, he wasn’t really aware of the IV of the experiment nor did he clearly define the actual Hypothesis or what role or how were the guards supposed to act ( even tho in the Youtube video I watched i heard him say, No Physical Violence was allowed in his study ) yet they were so ruthless with prisoners and they went little too far.

One more thought that arose in my mind is that the entire experiment was being recorded right from arresting the participants to punishing them, and they were also being supervised by CCTV’s the entire day, so what if this affected the way they acted?

One of the most famous frenemy of Zimbardo, Ben Bluem, criticized or rather pointed to this curiosity wherein years later, he interviewed guards and prisoners, and they came forward and shared that his much-cited breakdown was merely acting on his part. Another revealed that Zimbardo had encouraged the guards to act aggressively. Olson, E. (2018, July 5).

If it was to be replicated again today, I’d say, rather select an apt sample for the study (unlike only using participants belonging to a certain race), also to debrief the participants about the motive behind the study. According to me, The BBC Prison Experiment did shed light on a few important topics ie, there were in total 322 potential participants out of only 15 were selected, 5 were guards and 10 were prisoners, there was commotion that raised similar to the SPE but here, the prisoners actually came together and rebelled against the authoritative nature of the demanding guards and they learnt that by being together they could achieve a lot of common goals, including meals, better hygiene, this collective self realization lead the prisoners to feel less depressed and stressed, they rather worked collectively towards one common goal and it was seen that in the case of guards group, where there was chaos either due to lack of group identity or group power, there was more burnout and stress among them. This study helped shed light or did justice to a SPE replication with favourable conclusion.

Researchers, Reicher and Haslam replicated Zimbardo’s research by randomly assigning 15 men to the role of prisoner or guard. In this replication, the participants did not conform to their social roles automatically. For example, the guards did not identify with their status and refused to impose their authority; the prisoners identified as a group to challenge the guard’s authority, which resulted in a shift of power and a collapse of the prison system. These results clearly contradict the findings of Zimbardo and suggest that conformity to social roles may not be automatic, as Zimbardo originally implied.

Though this study stands out to be one of the most controversial and criticized and notorious one, It would be wrong on my part if I wouldn’t point out to the real life incidents this experiment directioned us towards, the famous Abu Ghraib prison which in this Ted talk by Zimbardo himself drew parallels about how the prisoners in Abu Ghraib Iraq Prison were abused, this was similar to the ones that Zimbardo’s guards inflicted but the degree varied drastically, they were stripped naked, beaten till they bled, they had swollen eyes, they were forced to make human pyramids naked, were threatened with police dogs who bit them, etc.He had highlighted by drawing parallels to his study stating that, the thin line between good and evil resides with power, and their social authority.

Even in military settings as Zimbardo pointed out, the soldiers merely follow orders of the ones who are in power and at a greater authority than them. In everyday life, if we were to see, we are constantly following orders or doing things our parents tell us to do, our elders tell us to do or the politician tells us to do, why? For they are at a higher power than us.The entire system revolves around the Power play, wherein the one with the most of it, controls and manipulates the others who are parched of it and do they have a say? Why is it that we act as Prisoners of SPE and fail to voice our thoughts and opinions when needed and rather give in power play?

Maybe what is needed is rather a change in the system, to overrule the situation at bay, as Zimbardo correctly sums up, “If you want to change a person, change the situation. And to change it, you’ve got to know where the power is, it is in the system” and I couldn’t agree less.

……………………………………

References :

American Psychological Association. (2016). Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. Retrieved from http://apa.org/ethics/code

Bleske-Rechek, A. L. (2001). Obedience, Conformity, and Social Roles: Active Learning in a Large Introductory Psychology Class. Teaching of Psychology, 28(4), 260–262. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15328023top2804_05

Mcleod, S. (2020). Stanford Prison Experiment | Simply Psychology. Https://Www.Simplypsychology.Org/Zimbardo.Html.

Olson, E. (2018, July 5). Was the Stanford Prison Experiment a sham? A Q&A with the writer who exposed the celebrated study. News | Palo Alto Online |. https://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2018/07/01/was-the-stanford-prison-experiment-a-sham-a-qa-with-the-writer-who-exposed-the-celebrated-study

Patricia Im. (2017, January 10). Psychology: The Stanford Prison Experiment – BBC Documentary. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4txhN13y6A

Past Ethical Issues- Stanford Prison Experiment and Abu Ghraib. (2016, November 22). Learning Ethical Qualitative Research. https://qualitativeresearchethics.wordpress.com/past-ethical-issues-stanford-prison-experiment-and-abu-ghraib/

Greenfield, R. (2013, October 30). How Did the Stanford Prison Experiment Get Out of Hand? The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/07/stanford-prison-experiment/352754/

The Study – The BBC Prison Study. (2002). http://Www.Bbcprisonstudy.Org/Bbc-Prison-Study.Php?P=54. http://www.bbcprisonstudy.org/bbc-prison-study.php?p=54

Zimbardo, P. (2008). The psychology of evil. TED Talks. https://www.ted.com/talks/philip_zimbardo_the_psychology_of_evil/transcript?language=en#t-555449

https://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug04/iraqi

3 Replies to “  Zimbardo’s Prison experiment / Stanford Prison Experiment : ”

    1. Yesss I’m sorry for that! Would edit it bit gotta type it out Nour, will do.
      Thank you so much, sorry for the late reply, havent been checking the comments lately.
      Hope you’re doing well?

      Like

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