The July/August issue of the Stanford Alumni Magazine has a fascinating retrospective of the famous Stanford Prison Experiment. This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the social psychology experiment in which psychologist Philip Zimbardo placed participants in a simulated prison environment in order to explore how situational variables impact human behavior.
In the study, 24 participants took on the roles of prisoners and guards in the mock-prison. While the experiment was originally slated to last for 14 days, it was halted after just six when the guards became abusive and the prisoners started to show signs of depression and anxiety.
The study made Zimbardo famous and generated serious debate about the ethics of subjecting participants to such emotional distress. While the study had been approved by the human subjects board at Stanford, the American Psychological Association ended up revising their guidelines in 1973 to prohibit simulations similar to the Stanford Prison Experiment.
The article includes interviews with several people involved in the experiment including Zimbardo and other researchers as well as some of the participants in the study.
Richard Yacco was one of the prisoners in the experiment and now works as a public school teacher. He offers some interesting insight into his experience:
"One thing that I thought was interesting about the experiment was whether, if you believe society has assigned you a role, do you then assume the characteristics of that role? I teach at an inner city high school in Oakland. These kids don't have to go through experiments to witness horrible things. But what frustrates my colleagues and me is that we are creating great opportunities for these kids, we offer great support for them, why are they not taking advantage of it? Why are they dropping out of school? Why are they coming to school unprepared? I think a big reason is what the prison study shows--they fall into the role their society has made for them.
Participating in the Stanford Prison Experiment is something I can use and share with students. This was one week of my life when I was a teenager and yet here it is, 40 years later, and it's still something that had enough of an impact on society that people are still interested in it. You never know what you're going to get involved in that will turn out to be a defining moment in your life."
Read the article to learn more:
- The Menace Within
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It is a shame that this experiment has been so widely noted. It was, and remains, completely invalid for the subject it was intended to study. It can be useful however as a study on how to do and how not to do experiments.
I think necessity is the mother of invention. That being said I think dependents are the necessity to earn money. Do really never see reality until the shield of parental protection is removed. The world in the eyes of youth is like looking at a building that has a million dollar front, but in reality is only a tar paper shack.
We all escape the true reality through great writers and great movies.
The ?experiment? (a demonstration within a simulation, really,) shows us what many refuse to acknowledge: that we are not in complete control, that we are and can be molded and directed by external forces and contexts (e.g., ads, media, fads). Oh yes, and, for good and ill, uniforms that tamp Americans? pathological ?individuality?.