The Stanford prison experiment is the one of the most controversial psychological studies in the 20th century. This theory has its critics and supporters, but the results of the experiment became an interesting look on the human psyche in the form of role behavior and their expressions. In the year of
1971, a professor and psychologist named Dr. Philip Zimbardo has a theory that one’s nature didn’t impress their roles in what they do, but rather one’s role had an impact on how one acted, particularly on how one adapts one’s nature to fit the expectations and rules associated with that rule. Dr. Zimbardo gathered 24 students and randomly turned some into guards and others in to prisoners.
The experiment had to be shut down after several days due to the violent path the experiment has taken. Once the students had settled into the roles of a guard and prisoner, they quickly adapted to such roles. Guards were initially given sticks and sunglasses – so one had a tool to oppress and to hide one’s identity. Prisoners were arrested by local police, chained and given prisoner jumpsuits. This only added identity – making it seem very real and thus the students acted out in seemingly realistic ways. Guards became increasingly aggressive, leading to a riot on the second day. The prisoners were getting sick and increasingly violent with each other. One student developed a rash when his “parole” got turned down
(the mind makes it real).
The experiment was done originally to examine imprisonment, the results of this one is now being used to demonstrate the undertaking of role behavior, the malleability of the brain that people can have when being encouraged by belief systems and social support. The reality and role-playing as exemplified in this experiment is shown through the inconsistency of prior personal beliefs and one’s behavior (and the consequences of your behavior). The students were normal students at the beginning of the study, but they changed quickly when they assumed their respective roles.
The experiment can be applied to broad classifications in general society. We all have our roles in life and the extent and expression of roles can tell us about human nature. After all, in the aftermath of the experiment, many students stated that they were just doing their job and that they only did what was expected of them. This can be applied to peer pressure and its function in maintaining and creating social roles. One example of peer pressure influencing and creating social roles is gender roles. The concept of gender arises from pre-conceived notions of how one should act upon one’s sex, with many variations in cultures. The applications of gender can either stunt r promote personal growth, curiosity into intellectual fields, determine who is socially acceptable and so on. The strength of this application of gender roles is strongest during the middle school years, when peer pressure is strongest in influencing behavior. Students at the age who do not conform to such standards – for example, a young boy who partakes in “feminine” hobbies such as knitting - face bullying, harassment and social ostracization. Peer pressure can strongly influence a person’s behavior, so that they might not be socially excluded.
There have been many criticism with the experiment, most of them with the ethics of the experiment.
Ranging from the possibility of harm done to whether it was a properly done experiment. On one hand, this was a field experiment, which means that this had observational results, rather than scientific evaluation. There was no control group to help track progress and because of these conditions, it would be difficult for someone or an institution to replicate the results. Another case of ethical criticism would be that the students did not give their full consent as