The results of this experiment were a huge surprise, indeed 65% of the participants follow the order until the end and did not rebel.
But have your friends heard about the Stanford prison experiment ? Which is just as astonishing !
- The experiment
This experiment occurred in 1971 and directed by Psychology professor Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University.
The goal was to study the psychological effects of the prison on people who embody the role of guards and prisoners.
Professor Philip Zimbardo
Professor Philip Zimbardo and his team selected 24 male, they judge psychologically stable and healthy, among 74 people who respond to the offer to participate for a two-weeks prison simulation paid 15$ (It correspond to almost 75$ nowadays).
The roles between guards and prisoners were given randomly and then everything has been establish so that they embody their role.
Prisoners were realistically arrested at home, the police took their fingerprint and they had to wear uncomfortable clothes, no underwear and also a chain on their ankle.
As regards for the guards, the researchers gave them batons and military clothes, and then they tell the guards that they were in charge of the prison and that they could manage it the way they want. But of course they have been forbid to use violence.
- The results
The experiment should last two weeks but it has been stop after only 6 days, indeed the experiment rapidly turned out to be a dangerous mess. From day 2 the prisoners start to rebel but the guards succeed to eradicate the riot and start to work unpaid extra hours. No more rebellion occurred but the treatment of the prisoners gets worse and worse
The guards begin to make the prisoners accomplish humiliating task such as cleaning toilets with the hands.
They used psychological tactics such as a the establishment of a "privilege cell" in oder to make the prisoners believe that they were informers among them. They also strip them naked, sexually taunt them and do others degrading activities.
Finally one-third of the guards revealed sadistic behavior.
This situation triggered many severe emotional break down among the prisoners, and the professor Philip Zimbardo himself acted improperly by refusing to release some seriously disturbed prisoners for a while. The experiment would have probably last longer if Christina Maslach didn't beg Zimbardo to stop it immediately after she interviewed some prisoners.
- Personal commentaries
This experiment is to us really scary, it's looks like a descent into hell. Obviously the first thing we had in mind was "How would we have react ?" but the fact is that we cannot know because it's seems that the personality is a minor factor in such situation.
We are used to think that we are simply good people but no one is immune to horrifying behavior. Which is quite disturbing and difficult to accept, don't you think ? Aren't we not the master of our behavior in a crisis ?
The second though we had in mind was "Are we more likely to act the good way now that we know about those experiments?". Give us your answers.
We regret that some of the participants suffer from severe emotional disturbance, and so, only for an experiment. Moreover there is many critics to do against the researchers, on the paper, the experiment was fine but they made some mistakes.
For example they should never accept the guards to do extra hours, because the camera were turn off so they were not able to control them. And as you can guess the worst thing happened at night.
But, in the other hand, it is also very interesting because it ask many questions and gives some part of the answer. We would say that this experiment is even more fascinating that the Milgram experiment because, both of them talk about blind obedience and diffusion of personal responsibility, but the Stanford prison experiment talks also about the importance of costumes to feel out of oneself, sadistic tendencies, passive tolerance and conformity to group.
Finally the thing that concerns us the most is, why the prisoners embodied their role of the victim so much. Why they felt like they deserved it ?
Our advises would be to watch the German movie "Das experiment" by Oliver Hirschbiegel. This is a stunning movie, inspired by the Stanford prison experiment, in which you can feel the rising of abuse of power from the inside. The beginning is very close to the real experiment but of course the end is much more dramatic. It's a movie after all.
Besides, another movie entitled "The Stanford Prison Experiment" is in production and will probably be released in 2011.
The optimistic conclusion would be to notice that if no one is intrinsically good, it also mean that no one is intrinsically bad.