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Reviewing Zimbardo’s Experiment

949 words - 4 pages

“The Stanford Prison Experiment” by Philip G. Zimbardo was written to explain the results of the Stanford prison experiment. Zimbardo while trying to gain support for his conclusions of the experiment, demonstrated many errors in his writing, and in his own experiment. The errors that Zimbardo commits call into question the validity of his argument, and the experiment. The goal explained by Zimbardo was “to understand more about the process by such people called “prisoners” lose their liberty, civil rights, independence, and privacy, while those called “guards” gain social power by accepting the responsibility for controlling and managing the lives of their dependent charges” (Zimbardo 733).
Zimbardo starts his paper with a storybook intro “The quiet of a summer morning” he then goes into the process by which the subjects were taken into the prison (732). This is an odd way to start a scientific paper, even if it was published in the New York Journal. He then switches between scientific, and novelistic language. In one sentence Zimbardo compares real prisons to “machines for playing tricks with the human conception of time” how does relating a prison to a machine validate his point? It seems as if Zimbardo is using his language to draw the reader into his paper so that they will sympathize with him.
While Zimbardo was careful to select his prisoners from anyone who had previously been to jail, he did not select a diverse group of subjects; he states that the group consisted of all Caucasians and one Oriental student, and were all of college age. He does not defend why he chose this uniform group of subjects, and it only makes one wonder how the experiment would have carried out if there was a more diverse grouping of both age and race. He also did not collect a diverse subject of social class, all his subjects being from the middle-class (734). The American Psychological Association has since established guidelines for diversity in experiments that are conducted. In the book Research and Evaluation in Education and Psychology Donna Mertens explains the guidelines for diversity as “recognition of the ways in which the intersection of racial and ethnic group membership with other dimensions of identity…enhances the understanding and treatment of all people” (Mertens 313).
Another issue in Zimbardo’s experiment was in the treatment of the prisoners. The guards would curse at the prisoners and force them to ridiculous and arbitrary tasks such as forcing them to pick thorns out of their blankets which the guards had dragged through the bushes (737). Even the prisoners would make detrimental remarks about their fellow prisoners (737). The extreme actions taken by the guards resulted in some prisoners developing anxiety symptoms, one symptom even exhibiting itself in a psychosomatic rash when one prisoner’s parole was rejected by the parole board (738). The American Psychological Association makes it very clear on this type of...

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