Stanford Prison Experiment

This week’s blog post I am going to be talking about a classmate’s blog post from last week. My choice is the Stanford Prison Experiment post from Sydney Pineault. In my last post, I talked about how ethical practices take part in a marketing research and common causes of unethical decisions. This time I am going to be talking about how people behave, depending on their roles.

The Stanford prison experiment aim was to investigate how readily people would conform to the roles of guard and prisoner in a role-playing exercise that simulated prison life. They were interested in finding out whether the brutality reported among guards in America prisons was due to the sadistic personalities of the guards or had more to do with the prison environment. So if the prisoners and guards behaved in a non-aggressive manner this would support the dispositional hypothesis, or if they behave the same way as people do in real prisons this would support the situational explanation.

They converted the basement of the Stanford University psychology building into a mock prison. The study comprised 24 male college students who were paid 15$ per day to take part in the experiment. Subjects were randomly assigned to either the role of prisoner or guard in a simulated prison environment. Those assigned to play the role of guard were given sticks and sunglasses; those assigned to play the prisoner role were arrested by the Palo Alto police department, deloused, forced to wear chains and prison garments, and transported to the basement of the Stanford psychology department.

At this point they saw how everyone was into their role. Several of the guards became progressively more sadistic, particularly at night when they thought the cameras were off, despite being picked by chance out of the same pool as the prisoners. The overall experiment went out of hand. There was a riot on day two, and after six days of experiment, it was shut down for fear that one of the prisoners would be seriously hurt. Although the intent of the experiment was to examine captivity, its result has been used to demonstrate the impressionability and obedience of people when provided with a legitimizing ideology and social and institutional support. It is also used to illustrate cognitive dissonance theory and the power of seniority/authority. Related image

We should know that the apparel for the guards and prisoners was given to them. For example, the sunglasses were not spontaneously chosen as apparel by the students, they were given to them. The students “guards” were also issued batons which may have predisposed them to consider physical force as an acceptable means of running the prison.