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The Artificial Prison of the Human Mind

Article #169 • Written by Daniel Lew

Photo courtesy Philip G. Zimbardo
Photo courtesy Philip G. Zimbardo

In 1963 1971, a study about prisons was funded by the U.S. Navy to try to better understand problems in the Marine Corps.' prisons. The study was run by a group of researchers at Stanford, led by psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo. The idea was to create a controlled environment in the Stanford halls to simulate a prison. There would be participants recruited to play both the prisoners and the guards, and the experiment would last for two weeks.

No one thought the experiment would have any big problems - the participants were just playing a short game of prison. Yet in less than a week the prisoners were becoming psychologically disturbed, and the guards disturbingly sadistic. There were riots, hunger strikes, and abusive treatment - all in the mock-up jail cells created in the halls of the Stanford psychology department. The study had to be canceled early, leaving one critical question - how could a fake prison situation become real so quickly?

The problem couldn't have been the characteristics of the participants. The original twenty-four volunteers were picked for their stability of mind, out of a group of seventy. Also, the pick between the prisoners and prison guards was made at random via coin tosses. Thus, there was no bias when it came to the players.

Zimbardo did attempt to make the prison more real with some degrading tactics to simulate a real prison. Each prisoner was given a number that was their identification for duration of the experiment. As for clothing, a prisoner only got one ill-fitted Muslin smock, an uncomfortable pair of rubber thong sandals, and a nylon pantyhose cap (which was put over the head, as though they had a shaved their hair off). If that wasn't bad enough, each had a chain on their foot, its constant clinking specifically to remind them that they were not free.

Photo courtesy Philip G. Zimbardo
Photo courtesy Philip G. Zimbardo

The guards were made to be quite intimidating - they went to a military surplus to get their khaki outfits and wooden batons. Also, they each wore large, reflective glasses. This was not in order to look cool, but to prevent eye contact with the prisoners.

On the chosen start date, the prisoners were arrested for armed robbery and taken from their homes by the actual Palo Alto police, who cooperated with the project. Their arrival at the pseudo-jail was as nasty as in any prison - they were stripped naked and deloused, then given their uniforms and numbers. And so the simulation began.

The first day of the experiment was relatively peaceful. Then, on the second day, the prisoners got feisty and attempted a rebellion. They took off their stocking caps and numbers, as well as barricading their cells with their beds. The guards took this threat seriously, calling in reinforcements to solve the problem. In the end, they used fire extinguishers to blast the prisoners away from the doors, then rushed in, stripped them naked, and sent the ringleaders into solitary confinement.

To further break the rebellion they used some mind games on the remaining prisoners; some were put in "good" cells where they were treated nicely, where the rest were put into “bad” cells where they were mistreated. After half a day, some of the prisoners were switched, thoroughly confusing the prisoners. Had someone ratted on another? Were there informers in their midst? Further rebellions were crushed.

Photo courtesy Philip G. Zimbardo
Photo courtesy Philip G. Zimbardo

This was only the beginning of the problems, though. The guards became abusive in response to the prisoners' rebellion. Regular head counts were made into hour-long ordeals with torment and forced physical exercise. Bathroom usage became a right, and was often denied at night. Instead, prisoners had to do their thing into buckets in their cells, which the guards sometimes refused to throw out. The allowance of food became a tool for the guards. Prisoners were forced into humiliating and degrading circumstances, through nudity and forced acts. Guards would become more abusive during the night as well, when they thought the cameras were turned off.

This environment got to be too much for some of the participants. Within two days, one prisoner began to have an emotional breakdown. However, at this point the guards started taking their roles very seriously - they thought he was trying to get out of his time by acting crazy. The participant soon became convinced that there was no escape from the study and went into a rage, an action that was finally enough to prompt his release from the study. He was not the only one who was released from the study early, and many others who stayed suffered from uncontrollable crying and disorganized thought.

Tauntingly, there were offers made to the prisoners to go on early parole. When asked if they'd sacrifice their payment in the study to get out early, most said yes. However, all paroles were rejected. Even though they had no incentive to continue in the study, they went with it anyways - as though they were really stuck in prison. Not that the guards would have let them free– as time went on the guards became more involved with their end of the study as well.

Photo courtesy Philip G. Zimbardo
Photo courtesy Philip G. Zimbardo

There were a few more rebellions from individual prisoners, but nothing so organized as the initial riot. One participant that entered the study later, as a stand-by prisoner, quickly started a hunger strike upon hearing the terrible conditions in the prison. He was thrown in solitary confinement for hours. At the same time, the other prisoners were offered an opportunity to get him out - if they sacrificed their own blankets. A rather crude tactic, but it caused the others to turn against this lone rebel (and stay warm at night). The prisoner was eventually taken out of solitary confinement by Zimbardo himself, since the rule was that no prisoner spend more than one hour in solitary.

There were many more abuses, as each day the guards became more controlling and the prisoners more disturbed. Despite all of this, visitors to the study did not seem to see any serious problems with the experiment. One day the friends and family of the prisoners were invited to visit them. Though a few made small protests to the participants' treatment, no one insisted upon the end of the study. Later, a chaplain came to visit with each of the prisoners, and he also voiced no objections.

However, in the end the experiment was canceled when a woman named Christina Maslach came to visit the Stanford prison. After seeing the crazy state that the prison had fallen into, she was outraged at the terrible conditions of the whole situation.

Photo courtesy Philip G. Zimbardo
Photo courtesy Philip G. Zimbardo

Of the fifty people who had visited the "prison," she was the first to object to its morality. This argument was enough for Zimbardo to end the study early, after only six days of the prison. Of course, her concerns might have carried more weight due to the fact that she and Zimbardo were dating at the time.

The researchers' overall conclusion in the study was that people fit their roles to institutions surprisingly well, despite their individual differences. That is, their situation dictated how they acted, rather than their own dispositions. However, this study has been highly criticized due to its unethical nature as well as its generally unscientific nature (can you imagine tracking all the variables?)

Still, it's undeniable that there's something more to the human mind than we think if such normal, stable people can become so degraded or monstrous in only a week's time. The prisoners, normal before the study, were quickly trapped in their own real prison. The guards were vigilant and kept the prisoners from escaping, despite their disturbed states. And thus a controlled scientific simulation quickly deteriorated into reality.

Article written by Daniel Lew, published on 21 April 2006. Daniel is a contributing editor for DamnInteresting.com.

Article design by Alan Bellows. Edited by Alan Bellows.
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58 Comments
Floj
Posted 21 April 2006 at 09:44 pm

Wow, that's amazing that it only took aa week. I'd like to think that I wouldn't go insane but I don't think anyone could honestly proclaim such a thing without experiencing it first hand. The results of the study reminds me of "The Lord of the Flies" where kids are stranded on an island and eventually become in-human in there actions. Perhaps, Wiliam Golding was more acurate with his opinion on human nature then I wanted to believe. That's unfortunate cause I'd like to think that we're better then that. I think the everyone needs a nice bigg slice of pie. Great Article Daniel, it was definitely insightful. What about the participants that didn't go insane? (I bet they got pie)

P.S. You deserve a double scoop of whip cream too. The team should have a pie party for sure.


mohdfadzlan
Posted 21 April 2006 at 09:59 pm

Good article... Never thought that it would be so fast.


PERKY_NIHILIST
Posted 21 April 2006 at 10:59 pm

This was a fascinating article. The timeframe of the study blew me away. I would have thought it would take much longer for people to assume their "roles" wholeheartedly.


Vibilo
Posted 22 April 2006 at 12:59 am

This reminds me of that expirement on authority where they told one person to electrocute the other person everytime they answered wrong. What they didnt know is that the 'victim' was an actor who was told to answer wrong and act like they were in severe pain.


mohdfadzlan
Posted 22 April 2006 at 01:59 am

Vibilo said: "This reminds me of that expirement on authority where they told one person to electrocute the other person everytime they answered wrong. What they didnt know is that the 'victim' was an actor who was told to answer wrong and act like they were in severe pain."

Woo.... Is it for real? Where did you heard about it? I would like to know too. Damn interesting.


bernietbb
Posted 22 April 2006 at 02:20 am

mohdfadzlan said: "Woo…. Is it for real? Where did you heard about it? I would like to know too. Damn interesting."

It was on one of those 'hidden camera' prank shows. I, too, also immediately thought of 'Lord of the Flies'.


redapollo
Posted 22 April 2006 at 02:33 am

mohdfadzlan said: "Woo…. Is it for real? Where did you heard about it? I would like to know too. Damn interesting."

This was an actual scientific experiment. An authority figure was also present with the person who controlled the shock, and told the person to shock the actor. Most of the time, the person would willingly increase the voltage to a level that, if true, would have had a good chance of killing the actor. Very few people objected to the practice on principle.

More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment


Marius
Posted 22 April 2006 at 03:56 am

Damn! This is very disturbing, and I'm glad to hear that the data collected are considered to be less than conclusive. To me it sounds more like absolute power corrupting absolutely. Were the guards trained at all, or just given carte blanche to do whatever they wished to the prisoners? I know a few people in corrections, and they get extensive training before they get put to work. I have witnessed that most people, given a choice, will obey those in authority over them, even when that authority is somewhat tenuous, and this study seems to bear that out. I have also learned that any sentence that begins 'If I had been there I would have...' is useless as well, since we really don't know what we would do in extreme circumstances, but it does seem very odd that only one of the prisoners decided to leave the experiment. Were they being paid a great deal for it? In any case, damn interesting.


Toom
Posted 22 April 2006 at 04:33 am

Heh. I remember studying both this and the Milgram electroshock study when I was doing A-level psychology; if I recall correctly, the participants weren't paid particularly well. Their continued participation in the face of such horrific treatment could reasonably have more to do with how submissive the "prisoners" rapidly became in the situation than the promise of any huge reward.

Unscientific and ethically dodgy as this infamous study was, it's a valuable experiment (borne out by the fact that, to my knowledge, every psychology student studies it at some length fairly early on). I don't think anybody could claim that lessons weren't learned from it...


Niles DiLux
Posted 22 April 2006 at 04:52 am

Derren Brown, a UK psychological illusionist, performed the Milgram experiment in one of his recent shows.

In order to find those suitable for the overall outcome of the show (to rob an armed bank security guard) he performed the experiment.

So, if you all wanted to see the Milgram experiment in action (as I'm not sure of the existence of the original on film) then seek a TV show called 'The Heist' by Derren Brown, aired on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom.

The Stanford Experiment is also available to watch. Much of it was filmed, and it regularly makes appearances to late night Open University TV shows for psychology students. Keep your eyes open for it. A very intriguing watch.


braddah_T
Posted 22 April 2006 at 06:30 am

There was a similar study done about the same time done on rats and the effects of overpopulation. I rememeber seeing it in grade school many years ago. Ironically I saw a short reference to the study on a Holloween program about rats, I think it was on Animal Planet, hosted by nonother than Alice Cooper. Anyone know what I'm talking about? I'd love to see it again.


Xcalibur
Posted 22 April 2006 at 07:25 am

What's most interesting about the Zimbardo and Milgrim experiments is the connection people have made between them and Nazi Germany. Especially for the Milgrim experiment, it illustrates very well how an entire society of people would be willing to carry out such atrocities when told to do so from an authority figure.

Civilization, it seems, is only a thin veil over barbarity.


Daniel Lew
Posted 22 April 2006 at 07:31 am

Vibilo said: "This reminds me of that expirement on authority where they told one person to electrocute the other person everytime they answered wrong. What they didnt know is that the 'victim' was an actor who was told to answer wrong and act like they were in severe pain."

Milgram's obediance studies? Yeah, we got that: http://www.damninteresting.com/?p=242


Maody
Posted 22 April 2006 at 07:56 am

Theres a german movie based on this story: "The Experiment". Its english version is available at amazon. Very disturbing movie. Got several german movie awards.


sparklemomma
Posted 22 April 2006 at 12:14 pm

I remember learning about this last semester in my psychology class. We even watched some video footage of the "guards" harassing the "prisoners." Pretty scary stuff!


zeroflake
Posted 22 April 2006 at 01:17 pm

There is a german movie based on this experiment and is aptly titled "Das Experiment" or "The Experiment". http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0250258/ you can find it on dvd and is an excellent movie.


rp2
Posted 22 April 2006 at 01:41 pm

do I hear an echo?


Gaffer
Posted 22 April 2006 at 02:33 pm

Thought this looked familiar... props to whoever read the email where I suggested this.


TopDollar
Posted 22 April 2006 at 03:11 pm

I remember reading an article in a Scientific American Mind special issue from October of last year where they talked about the original Stanford prisoner experiment, and a second experiment based on it which was conducted more recently and was slightly more successful. Unfortunately I can't remember very many of the other details.


another viewpoint
Posted 22 April 2006 at 05:18 pm

...except for one major difference here, these "prisoners" were not criminals...but were instead treated as if they were! Now turn the tables...I don't think you get the same behaviors from real criminals in a real prison.

So what was this suppose to prove? Deprive people of certain freedoms and things they take for granted and yes, they will sink to low levels where survival takes on the highest priority...even at the expense of "their brothers".

It just goes to show, there is afterall, a cost for freedom!


Korgmeister
Posted 23 April 2006 at 01:57 am

Toom said: "Heh. I remember studying both this and the Milgram electroshock study when I was doing A-level psychology; if I recall correctly, the participants weren't paid particularly well. Their continued participation in the face of such horrific treatment could reasonably have more to do with how submissive the "prisoners" rapidly became in the situation than the promise of any huge reward.

I think it would more likely to be a cognitive dissonance thing.
Strangely, people tend to become more fanatical about something when rewarded meagrely than they are if rewarded generously.


wirjo
Posted 23 April 2006 at 04:33 am

Well, I can imagine that it will eventually turn out like that... but I can't believe that it takes such a short period of time to reach that level...


myname
Posted 23 April 2006 at 09:34 am

Floj said: "That's unfortunate cause I'd like to think that we're better then that."

Oh no.... no, no, no. A small group perhaps. And I mean small, less than 10 for sure. But anylarge group of people left unchecked in anything less than the garden of Eden...and well, im sure it could get much worse


myname
Posted 23 April 2006 at 09:38 am

Toom said: "Heh. I remember studying both this and the Milgram electroshock study when I was doing A-level psychology; if I recall correctly, the participants weren't paid particularly well. Their continued participation in the face of such horrific treatment could reasonably have more to do with how submissive the "prisoners" rapidly became in the situation than the promise of any huge reward.


Unscientific and ethically dodgy as this infamous study was, it's a valuable experiment (borne out by the fact that, to my knowledge, every psychology student studies it at some length fairly early on). I don't think anybody could claim that lessons weren't learned from it…"

Im a Psych Major, and yes we studied this fairly early on, its standard I believe.


dmwit
Posted 23 April 2006 at 11:12 am

Having participated in a summer camp run by the Marines, I can assure you that even the most promising and motivated people fall into assigned roles with great gusto at short notice. By the third day, the part of our "platoon" that was put in charge were making the rest of us do push-ups, sit-ups, wall-sits, sprints, and all other manner of PT punishment -- and we weren't complaining! At least, not to them...


white_matter
Posted 23 April 2006 at 05:33 pm

PERKY_NIHILIST said: "This was a fascinating article. The timeframe of the study blew me away. I would have thought it would take much longer for people to assume their "roles" wholeheartedly."

These people were not actually criminals and the guards weren't actually guards. I would think that if I were an actual criminal, I would entertain the thought (if only breifly) of possible jail time and try to prepare myself for it mentally (if only on an extremely subconscious level). The guards also had no consequences for their actions, whereas a real guard would fall under somekind of code of conduct for correction officers. Since these people have been stipped of their humanity anyway, why treat them as human in the first place.

That's an ugly statement, I know, but unfortunately it's human nature.

I'm no psych major or socialogist though...only my thoughts.


white_matter
Posted 23 April 2006 at 11:51 pm

*stripped


nutritionalalchemist
Posted 24 April 2006 at 06:52 am

Xcalibur said: "What's most interesting about the Zimbardo and Milgrim experiments is the connection people have made between them and Nazi Germany. Especially for the Milgrim experiment, it illustrates very well how an entire society of people would be willing to carry out such atrocities when told to do so from an authority figure.

Civilization, it seems, is only a thin veil over barbarity."

You are very correct in that assumption. As I posted in another commentary, I had a poli-sci instructor discuss nazi germany on how they could go from the top to being what they became in so short a period. His moral was: do not think it could not happen again, and do not think it could not happen here.

What I found interesting is that because I work for a correctional facility, you see this behavior in some staff, however after reading a few files (we have a 80 percent csc (criminal sexual conduct) at this facility, and out of that 80%, over half are child mollesters) It is VERY difficult not to look at them like they are scum, and to maintain your professionalism at the same time. I dont know if anyone from michigan is in here, but if they are and they remember the case where the father went into the daycare to shoot his child and mother. We have that individual at the prison. The sad part is he met a women through a prison posting inside of a month and she is visiting, knowing who and what he is. I believe a study should be done on these type of women.


nutritionalalchemist
Posted 24 April 2006 at 07:07 am

white_matter said: "These people were not actually criminals and the guards weren't actually guards. I would think that if I were an actual criminal, I would entertain the thought (if only breifly) of possible jail time and try to prepare myself for it mentally (if only on an extremely subconscious level). The guards also had no consequences for their actions, whereas a real guard would fall under somekind of code of conduct for correction officers. Since these people have been stipped of their humanity anyway, why treat them as human in the first place.

That's an ugly statement, I know, but unfortunately it's human nature.

I'm no psych major or socialogist though…only my thoughts."

Also a very correct statement. We are under a very stringent code, just like the police are. In fact, you would be surprised at how felons are treated with kid-gloves. This varies from administration to administration at each facility. The current one at my facility bends over backwards for the prisoners and visitors. An example. We have visiting hours that start at 14:30 hours. The staff in the visit room also perform the perimeter zone checks for the facility. this requires 3 officers to walk the perimeter fence around a 40 acre facility and test the zone sensors. Officers are being written up if they have not completed this at the appointed time, regardless of the reason (ie, difficulty with the fence or not getting a response to it) Thia also allows no time for the officers to properly search the visit room as it takes a full 30 minutes to do zone checks and our shift starts a 1400 hours. When did custody and security of our correctional facilities take a back seat to the warm fuzzy feeling of our incarcerated. Congress also held a session on prison rape, and discovered that if a inmate was raped, he was more likely to rape someone else. Has congress ever done a session on citizen victims and how they feel? I doubt it highly


nutritionalalchemist
Posted 24 April 2006 at 07:19 am

yess!!! I have the 30th post!!!

; )


MikeyToo
Posted 25 April 2006 at 04:03 am

Has anyone else noticed the similarities between the experiment and the prison at Abu Ghraib? Or is it me?


Manish
Posted 25 April 2006 at 08:04 am

Oliver Hirschbiegel has made this complete episode into a movie called "Das, Experiment" in 2001. To read the review you can visit - http://imdb.com/title/tt0250258/
When I first saw this movie, I was moved to the core for the events are so realistic and would undeniably happen to anyone put under the condition.


cmanda
Posted 25 April 2006 at 11:34 am

It is amazing to me how people fall into roles they are assigned so easily and in such a short amount of time. You can see this in today's schools. Children who are told they are smart and constantly treated like they are gifted will act as if they are. The reverse is also true, sadly. Children with poor teachers who are not encouraging and children who are made to feel dumb, can feel they are not smart and act in this way.

Group mentality is also very prevalant in this case. Individuals saw others acting in a certain fashion, so they felt similar actions were appropriate and acceptable. This could also escalate behavior to some of the harsh conditions exhibited by the "guards." As for the prisoners, that is harder to figure out why they would tolerate these abuses. It may be for the sake of the experiment, but personally I would not put up with some of that stuff.

Another real life example, would be camp or social groups...as a group they act in a certain way but individually they might never behave that way.


bryon
Posted 25 April 2006 at 12:38 pm

Doesn't it seem strange that a psychologist's major scientific study is cut short because of the objections of his girlfriend?


sierra_club_sux
Posted 26 April 2006 at 08:35 am

bryon said: "Doesn't it seem strange that a psychologist's major scientific study is cut short because of the objections of his girlfriend?"

Very acute observation. Have you seen the dude? Probably didnt want to risk losing a relationship.


white_matter
Posted 27 April 2006 at 10:19 pm

MikeyToo said: "Has anyone else noticed the similarities between the experiment and the prison at Abu Ghraib? Or is it me?"

I know for a fact someone is going to read this and call me a monster but here it is anyway:

Abu Ghraib is a little different. I can speak about this with some authority since I was deployed to Baghdad at the same time that went down. The soldiers that were there were from the 1st Armored Division (deployed from Germany) or 1AD for short. We were there a year and though we know that there are no guarantees we got extended there for 90 to 180 days. We were all packed up and ready to go. Some units were even back in Germany and had to go back.

Why do you ask? Because of terrorist and those that supported them. Sound like anyone that was in Abu Ghraib? Abu Ghraib was about revenge more than anything I think. Thinking back to the mind-set that I had back then and how thin every mental capacity I had was, I can't say that I wouldn't have done the same thing that they did...or worse.

I don't condone the actions of those soldiers but I CERTAINLY understand them.

Can you say that if a year+ of your young twenties was sucked out of you for a war that you wanted no part of you wouldn't do the same? Or at least be tempted to?


Spike
Posted 28 April 2006 at 05:23 pm

bryon said: "Doesn't it seem strange that a psychologist's major scientific study is cut short because of the objections of his girlfriend?"

Doesn't it seem strange that none of the other observers thought the experiment was out of control??? Maybe his girlfriend was the only one to speak her mind and say this was out of hand. I'm not sure that even pie could fix this mess.


rationalist
Posted 02 May 2006 at 08:34 pm

The saddest thing about all the follow-up research to the Milgram and Zimbardo experiments?

ALL the focus is on the common pathology, and NONE on the minority of participants who did NOT abandon their humanity and their morality and their ethical sense.

If we spent a fraction of that budget in money time and energy on understanding what makes people remain human beings under such conditions, whether artificially induced in experiments or horrifically experienced in concentration camps, battlegrounds and prisons, if we cared a bit more about what makes some seemingly ordinary people capable of NOT behaving like monsters, perhaps our world would be a better place. Perhaps we'd learn how to educate and strengthen our young people's minds and characters so that more of us would behave according to our highest standards--rather than implicitely excusing those who behave according to our worst, because they are "only human".


fallsdown
Posted 06 May 2006 at 09:14 am

When I was working in San Jose California in 1979 I saw a story on I believe it was 60 Minutes on CBS covering this experiment. The next day at work I was surprised to learn that one of the head guards was a co-worker. He seemed like a pretty nice guy at the time and some of us talked about it but I don't recall him having a great insights about the experiment. He was just a regular guy. Power can do funny things to seemingly normal people.


fallsdown
Posted 06 May 2006 at 09:22 am

Quick follow up. I believe that he is the guard in the first picture at the top of the page with the mutton chop sideburns and sun glasses. It was a long time ago. I think his name was Dave E. (last name withheld). How you doin Dave?


Hayley
Posted 07 May 2006 at 12:58 pm

Another study was done like this at Harvard, I believe, some years later where they tried to basically recreate this same experiment in a more controlled situation. This study, however, went horrible in far less time; out of a several week experiment, I think they ended up cancelling it in 2-3 days. The prisoners were being actively abused in horrible ways, being seriously whipped and beaten. The controllers of the study stepped in and decided it was too much. As a result, there is a code in all psychological studies that now prevents treating subjects in any sort of inhumane way, even simply psychologically damaging. All subjects are required also to know of any potential danger to themselves and to have the ability to back out at any point.

The funny thing about both of these studies is that both prisoners and guards were given the option of backing out at any point. While some 'wished' they could get out, it appeared that they had actually forgotten they could, and none specifically asked to be let out of the study, instead taking the abuses as they came.


shorty
Posted 11 May 2006 at 07:33 pm

This is the best DI i've read so far. I scan through the comments, and I see nazi germany brought up a lot. However, what I think of is the prisons around the world today, and the States holds one of the highest prison rates per capita in the world. What does that say about us, as a society. We are the prison guards, is what it says.


kestral
Posted 10 June 2006 at 04:34 pm

Has Philip Zimbardo ever apologized for this experiment?
Have any of the "guards" ever apologized to the "prisoners" for their inhuman behavior?
Did any of the prisoners develop PTSD as a result of this experience?
Have any of the prisoners developed PTSD or PTSD like symptoms?

Where were Philip Zimbardo's professional ethics? He certianly knew about fraternity hazing. He did not properly supervise this experiment. Zimbardo should be ashamed of this experiment, and his failures both as a researcher and as a human being.


me09
Posted 03 July 2006 at 11:45 am

Can someone tell me exactly what prision is for? Is it supposed to keep the prisioner safe and out of his ways, or just to make him cuckoo? Anyways, Damn Interesting!


GMBurns
Posted 03 July 2006 at 03:17 pm

One thing that no one has mentioned:

Now that you have read about this experiment and the Milgram experiment, do you think that in the future, if you were made a guard in another such experiment, or even in real life, you would act like these guards did?
I ask because I think that being forewarned has a preventative effect on such behavior (for many). I have seen child and teenage behavior that makes me realize that Lord of the Flies behavior is an inch below the surface for many people, possibly especially young men and teenage boys, but I think that inciting a rational appraisal of our instincts and temptations helps to activate the beter part of our nature.


tigoldbitty
Posted 11 July 2006 at 08:39 pm

The matrix.


Ayan
Posted 15 July 2006 at 10:28 am

Hayley said: "Another study was done like this at Harvard, I believe, some years later where they tried to basically recreate this same experiment in a more controlled situation. This study, however, went horrible in far less time; out of a several week experiment, I think they ended up cancelling it in 2-3 days. The prisoners were being actively abused in horrible ways, being seriously whipped and beaten. The controllers of the study stepped in and decided it was too much. As a result, there is a code in all psychological studies that now prevents treating subjects in any sort of inhumane way, even simply psychologically damaging. All subjects are required also to know of any potential danger to themselves and to have the ability to back out at any point.


The funny thing about both of these studies is that both prisoners and guards were given the option of backing out at any point. While some 'wished' they could get out, it appeared that they had actually forgotten they could, and none specifically asked to be let out of the study, instead taking the abuses as they came."

In 2-3 days? Had they considered that the problem might have been from the personal biases of the people participating in the experiment? If the guards thought that those in prison are nothing more than scum, and forget that the "experimental scum" are actually not real criminals, would that have something to do with the abuse getting so carried away?

I can't imagine that humans are so likely to act unfavourably towards others that they consider ("ideally" or "realistically") human, unless the humanity factor is stripped from the personality of the one being treated inhumanly. Although grudges against criminals might not go so far in society where the criminals are locked up and there are consequences for abuse, what would those grudges result in when they are given the chance to act freely in a "controlled" environment for the "benefit" of science?

That was mere speculation on my part. Power could have also played a role in the situation.

As for the prisoners who were given the chance to back out but didn't - how likely is it that they would've forgotten something such as that? Perhaps in a fight-or-flight mode, in the midst of panic and confusion, they would've forgotten, but had the situation been so perilous or horrid as to make them irrational? Perhaps they were in it for the money, perhaps they thought that as 'prisoners,' it would be out of character to escape, perhaps they thought that they deserved it, so long as they were 'prisoners,' perhaps some of them had enough experience with abuse or hard-times to be able to sufficiently maintain the thought that they could take whatever came, perhaps they didn't know that the abuse was getting out of hand...

This might also account to the prisoner's distburances: A stable mentality overall does not mean that whatever holding that mentality stable is the same for every individual. That factor differs. Self-confidence might stabilize someone, normality in the environment might be what stabilizes someone, social interaction might stabilize someone, the presence of loved-ones and familiar faces might stabilize someone ... it depends. Even a simulation of a prison will have stripped away the aforementioned, and even more that I might have missed. This deprivation might result in hopelessness, lack of clear judgement, etc.

Unless someone actually evaluates the individuals involved in the experiment, it's hard to tell.


Marzydotes
Posted 27 August 2006 at 10:20 pm

My first thought was about the allegedly "harmless" treatment of those "detained" at Guantanamo post-9/11 and now makes me wonder why lots more haven't offed themselves. Then it struck me that families -- or at least, my family -- often create a similar imbalance of power between older and younger siblings. I have vivid memories of my brother's tying me to an oak tree that was teeming with ants and leaving me there for what seemed like hours. He did other cruel things to me -- because he could. He was firstborn, a boy, and my parents and grandparents worshipped him. I, a girl, was born 18 months later, and my mother was so overwhelmed with anticipating the responsibility of two babies at once that she begged our family doctor to perform an abortion. I knew from the beginning that my role was to submit and his was to dominate. He is now a multi-millionaire and I'm a functional screw-up. In a small way, the Stanford experiment makes me relieved.


Kao_Valin
Posted 02 August 2007 at 07:29 am

Would a follow up question come about such as "Well if imprisonment is bad and will not help matter, what alternatives are there for real punishment?" Kind've makes you think that the prison system is making matters worse. Then again some people were just raised to cause trouble so detaining them from the general population isnt neccessarily a bad idea.

It is interesting the think that had the experiment continued, the "normal" people may have pressed their oppression. The result of that would be the oppressors would oppress differently or more so than before (ie longer time permitted in solitary). So eventually it would be a vicious cycle whereby the guards and the prisoners would escalate until neither or one was no longer willing to escalate further. Eventually the killers would be on both sides don't you agree?


Former-Marine
Posted 31 October 2007 at 11:51 pm

(ahem) Oorah! Marine Corps prison. That's where those unfortunate few Marine - we call them "non-hackers" - end up. I'll be the first to tell anyone that 10% of ANY group - the U.S. Navy; Canada; France(?); Girl Scouts; The Red Cross; etc - is bad. The only organization that may have more than 10% is any government.

The Marine Corps has a stringent filtering process to weed out all non-hackers from entering my beloved Marine Corps. However, as efficient as our filtering system is, it is definitely not perfect. By the way, I don't care for the reason for the study "...try to better understand problems in Marine Corps prisons". Seems to me that ANY prison has this problem. I also saw a movie in the 80's (I don't remember the name of the film), where a school teacher wanted to show how the entire country of Germany was taken in by Hitler. This study almost mirrors that movie, with the exception of "prison" and "prisoners". Anyway, Damn good article. Keep up the excellent work! Ooorah!


aimew
Posted 24 March 2008 at 08:38 am

My first thoughts were about the Nuremberg trials and how the Allies dealt with the concentration camp guards; were we too harsh with them? Were we harsh enough? In view of this, and other experiments like it, I have more compassion for those guards than I may have formally. Many of them were truly perplexed at their own behavior, blaming it on orders and having no choice, yet at the time they were doing what they were doing, there was little enough hesitation or rebellion from those very guards. It made their stories unconvincing to the jurors at the time; but I wonder, if these types of experiments had been done prior to those trials, would the guards even have been tried? Hopefully we have learned something from these experiments.
I do not wish to make light of the Holocaust at all or in any way; but should the guards really have been held accountable? The Commandants and higher authorities, yes, but perhaps not the guards themselves.
What about the guards at Abu Ghraib? Should those individuals be held accountable for group behavior? In my honest opinion, yes, because that was an entirely different situation. Unlike the experiment where armatures were involved, or Nazi guards, where their behavior was not only sanctioned but was encouraged by their society and their superiors and so the group psychology had free reign, the guards at Abu Ghraib were professional soldiers with standing orders and rules of engagement. That behavior was not sanctioned by our society nor the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice) and so they not only knew better but they knew and understood that what they were doing was wrong. They attempted to hide their behavior and were only caught by chance. That was not the case with the other two extremes where they did what they did openly.
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[On another note: I do wish people would read the comments before they added their own, it would reduce the duplicates considerably. There is something to be said about how people leave comments on sites like this, too. I wonder at the psychology of it all? Have studies been done on this phenomenon? I'd like to see that! (Spell checkers would help, too.)]
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To the former Marine who posted earlier - Semper Fi from another, and a Vietnam Vet as well!
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If we treated others as we would like to be treated ourselves it would be a far better world.


Mirage_GSM
Posted 18 June 2008 at 02:13 am

For a modernized take on the Lord of the Flies theme, Infinite Ryvius is an interesting series to watch.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinite_Ryvius


a1c
Posted 09 August 2008 at 03:23 pm

Power is the ability to be or make be. Whomever has the strongest "frame" is always the winner and decides the fate of the perception of any situation. It's sort of like wagging the dog.


Zefiro
Posted 28 October 2008 at 09:56 am

Former-Marine said: "I also saw a movie in the 80's (I don't remember the name of the film), where a school teacher wanted to show how the entire country of Germany was taken in by Hitler.

This probably was The Wave, which IMDB lists as movies both from 1981 and 2008.

From the description given here and what I heard elsewhere when I first heard about this experiment I cannot conclude that those 'prisoners' were really free to abort the experiment:

"The participant soon became convinced that there was no escape from the study and went into a rage, an action that was finally enough to prompt his release from the study."

So he and "several others" were released, but of which decision? Their own, or Zimbardos?
"When asked if they'd sacrifice their payment in the study to get out early, most said yes. However, all paroles were rejected. Even though they had no incentive to continue in the study, they went with it anyways - as though they were really stuck in prison. Not that the guards would have let them free– as time went on the guards became more involved with their end of the study as well."

So, it's open how much freedom to just say the Safeword they really had. To me this paragraph doesn't really sound like they had.

But assuming they really could say "Stop, I quit the experiment" and would be heared, "forgetting" that this was an option - as mentioned here by Haylay and disputed by Ayan - is very real. The term "Stopword" I mentioned actually comes from the BDSM subculture, where such kinds of power play are very common and the Sub really wants to have some 'lower position'. The community is very sensible to these topics and have mechanism to not let it get out of hand. Especially some unwritten rules and those Stopwords - but mostly that they are good friends or loving partners, not some random people thrown together in an experiment for which they could lay ethical blame on the organizers.

From my own experience I can assure you, yes, it is completely possible to "forget" aborting is an option. For as long as you are in the situation, and for reevaluating it you need to (mentally) take a step back. You don't need to be in high panic to not being able to see the greater picture. Every day life is similar... you COULD just quit your boring job with the mobbing collegues at any time, couldn't you?


elphaba
Posted 17 December 2008 at 05:44 pm

God, that is sooo creepy.


allduerespect88
Posted 06 January 2009 at 06:45 pm

tigoldbitty said: "The matrix."

Can someone get him a coloring book? :-)


interestedkid
Posted 27 February 2011 at 11:39 pm

Does anyone seem to think this is the way our government is against all of their "subjects"? It seems to me that our very own government puts us through this same sort of situation where we technically can easily over throw them, but we do not because we "know our place". I think we do not step up and simply ask "why?" as stated in another comment above. I think fear has a main role in this too just because we accept our place and we would not know what would happen if we ever got out of line. If we were all to stand up and say screw this it would be a different story, but only a couple would do that, a few would think that, and the rest would never ever think to do that because of fear. This may sound a bit off track here, but I just think fear is a good role in this as well.


fsjec6
Posted 20 March 2014 at 03:46 am

I have read of more recent studies that show that when required to carry cameras to record their actions, and that they cannot control, police officers become very far less likely to use force or other abusive behavior. Evidence that accountability is important and currently is lacking.


END OF COMMENTS
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