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Stanford Prison Experiment Essay

1338 words - 5 pages

When put into an authoritative position over others, is it possible to claim that with this new power individual(s) would be fair and ethical or could it be said that ones true colors would show? A group of researchers, headed by Stanford University psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo, designed and executed an unusual experiment that used a mock prison setting, with college students role-playing either as prisoners or guards to test the power of the social situation to determine psychological effects and behavior (1971). The experiment simulated a real life scenario of William Golding’s novel, “Lord of the Flies” showing a decay and failure of traditional rules and morals; distracting exactly how people should behave toward one another. This research, known more commonly now as the Stanford prison experiment, has become a classic demonstration of situational power to influence individualistic perspectives, ethics, and behavior. Later it is discovered that the results presented from the research became so extreme, instantaneous and unanticipated were the transformations of character in many of the subjects that this study, planned originally to last two-weeks, had to be discontinued by the sixth day. The results of this experiment were far more cataclysmic and startling than anyone involved could have imagined. The purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast the discoveries from Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment and of Burrhus Frederic “B.F.” Skinner’s study regarding the importance of environment.
In August of 1971, Philip G. Zimbardo placed a simple advertisement in the local city paper requesting for: “Male college students needed for psychological study of prison life: $15 per day for one-to-two weeks. Beginning August 16,” (Zimbardo, 2005) and thus was the launch of the Stanford prison experiment. With that simple advertisement, Zimbardo received applications from over seventy participants from across the United States and Canada. To ensure to have satisfactory results in his study, Zimbardo required some preconditions. One of which was the period of time for the experiment to be conducted. He believed that one-to-two weeks would be essential in “providing our research participants with sufficient time for them to become fully engaged in their experimentally assigned roles of either guards or prisoners. Having [our] participants live in that setting day and night, if prisoners, or work for long eight-hour shifts, if guards, would also allow sufficient time for situational norms to develop and patters of social interaction to emerge, change and become crystallized” (Zimbardo, 2013). Other preconditions he had were the mentalities of his volunteers; are they “normal,” healthy mentally and physically, are they without any prior history of conviction or drug usage?
Some other preconditions were to make the experimental setting bear a resemblance as closely to a functional simulation of the psychology of imprisonment as humanly...

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