Stanford Prison Experiment and Social Psychology Essay

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Stanford Prison Experiment and Social Psychology
Erica Mariscal Vigil
Diana Wheatley

Stanford Prison Experiment and Social Psychology Dr. Philip Zimbardo, a faculty member at Stanford University, conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971. The experiment was conducted in the basement of the psychology department at Stanford. According to Zimbardo, they study was “an attempt to see what happens when you put really good people in a bad place” (Classic Studies in Psychology, 2012). There were 24 male participants randomly assigned to act as “guards” or “prisoners” in the mock prison. The study was initially supposed to last two weeks, but was ended after six days due to the extreme behaviors of the participants.
This paper will illustrate the value of this study in relation to social psychology as well as the relevance to contemporary world issues. It will also explain the value of the study in relation to humanity as a whole and the problems and safeguards in place to reduce the ethical concerns this study created.
Value of Study in Relation to Social Psychology The Stanford Prison Experiment has become a good example of how good people can be influenced into becoming “perpetrators of evil” and healthy people can begin to experience pathological reactions based on situations and their environment (American Psychological Association, 2004). This study proved that a person’s behavior in a situation such as this one in a mock prison is supposed to be due either to their internal dispositions or the external features of the situation and environment, but not both (McGreal, 2013).
Therefore, the behavior of the guards and prisoners in the study was due to the roles they played along with the environment they were placed in. When given the opportunity to play a role, they played that role as a stereotypical guard or prisoner. The guards got creative in the way they punished the prisoners and the prisoners forgot that they were in fact participating in a study and made each other believe that they were true prisoners.
This study also assisted psychologist with world issues such as the abuse, which was discovered in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Located 20 miles west of Baghdad, this prison was a U.S. detention center for captured Iraqis during the Iraq war. Iraqi prisoners were being humiliated, abused, and tortured. Eleven soldiers were convicted of crimes and many more were reprimanded.
When Zimbardo was questioned about the abuse at Abu Ghraib he said, “When the images of the abuse and torture in Abu Ghraib were revealed, immediately the military went on the defensive saying it’s a few bad apples. When we see people do bad things we assume they are bad people to begin with. But what we know in our study is: there are a set of social psychological variables that can make ordinary people do things they could never have imagined doing” (Mutual Responsibility, 2012). What Zimbardo is saying is that people who committed these crimes are not necessarily “bad” people. They were given power with out clear rules. They made bad judgments and were influenced by the environment, the power, and others around them.
While we may not hear of situations like prison abuse on a regular basis it does not mean that they do not occur. I believe that humanity as a whole has in some way or another dealt with a situation in which abuse or conformity has been an issue. Children see this in schools with bullying. As a child we’ve seen our peers getting bullied and most likely conformed to the situation by allowing the stronger person take control.
All of humanity has used their power against someone or has conformed to the rules and power of others.
Ethical Concerns
The Stanford Prison Experiment attracted many critics. Mainly they criticized Zimbardos ethical concerns for the prisoners. This study has also been used in other psychology courses as an example of unethical research. After all, one