The Stanford Prison experiment, in my opinion is a remarkable experiment . It isn’t ethical in the least but the results that have emerged have exceeded even what Mr. Zimbardo set out to do. The aim of seeing whether people change their basic personalities , moralities , values when subjected to an external hostile environment has been successfully proven. My honest opinion is that , at that time in 1971 , it was rational enough to think about going out of the way to get an answer to a particular question . If Mr.
Zimbardo were to conduct this experiment in modern day 2012 , it would have never left the drawing board. The acceptance of the public to such an experiment played a large part in it being so famous (right and wrong reasons). At that time many psychologists were on the “trend” of human experimentation , for eg – with the Milgram experiment and so on. It seemed fair enough to plot out the Stanford Prison Experiment. The brief of the entire experiment was pretty straightforward . There were going to be people who were going to be Prisoners and Guards.
These people were not approached , they came to Mr. Zimbardo in response to his advertisement in the newspaper along with a fee of $15 a day. The experiment was expected to last for 14 days and the behavior of the guards and the prisoners was to be observed. Mr. Zimbardo himself played the role of the Jail Superintendent. This all took place at Stanford University itself. I think that it’s a fair arrangement because the people knew what they were getting into. But how they felt when they got out was the real question. The experiment really showed that when people get power , they misuse it.
The guards for example were briefed to only maintain order in the jail and follow the rules. However , the fact that they made the prisoners strip , do silly things , wake them up at midnight , disorient them etc shows that people , when given power will instinctively seek to misuse it. Especially if its authority and power that they don’t deserve or they don’t care much for. The most shocking thing is that within a day of the experiment commencing , the prisoners and the guards slowly began forgetting their real identities and actually believing that they were the actual prisoners and guards.
Their behavior changed accordingly. The prisoners were assigned numbers such as #416 . They began to associate themselves with that number and not their name, Its surprising to see that with a change in the environment , an individual can disassociate himself with his own identity . Uncautiosly the guards started to behave like “guards” in the true sense. Their personal views , notions were thrown out of the window and they followed the “stereotypical” impression of a jail guard of him being , sadistic , mean , rude , alpha male etc.
The prisoners , who were victim to this were treated like garbage , their self esteem , confidence etc was non-existent . They forgot the fact that they were real human beings who lived a completely normal life away from this madness but that wasn’t the case. Its surprising to see people change according to the situation , its almost characteristic of a chameleon. A few prisoners couldn’t handle the emotional torture and went into trauma and depression. They were released immediately from the experiment.
This shows us the effect literal role playing can have on the human mind. The guards though they weren’t like this in real life , the situation around them made them feel it necessary to alter their behavior unknowingly to tame the prisoners as a master would do to a pet. The life of everyone who took part in the experiment including Mr. Zimbardo changed drastically after that. Modern Day psychology has also been affected by this monumental experiment. If this something similar were to be done in the near future , I’m sure I’d love to be a part of it.
Witnessing the change in human psyche with a change in the environment sounds very interesting and to be able to say it as if you’ve lived it is even better. Ethically , Morally , Humanely – NO But Scientifically as a pure experiment – I agree The only reason why we come to think of it to be so morally shameful and degrading is because it actually happened and that given psychologists and people a much greater understanding of the whole experiment. Although its much easier said than done. The people involved have been traumatized for life , collateral damage for a greater cause.