Zimbardo's Prison Experiment Essay examples

Submitted By Lucinda63
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Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment

Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment
Presented by Lucinda L. McCann

In 1973 the Stanford Prison Experiment was undertaken and orchestrated by Dr. Zimbardo. The purpose of the experiment was to observe the possible transformation the participant would undergo respective to their position as inmate or guard. Zimbardo stated his interest was in finding whether the brutality reported among guards in American prisons was due to the sadistic personalities of the guards, or was more a product of the prison environment. Zimbardo’s procedure was to simulate a prison environment by converting the basement in to a prison. He then screened 21 male college students for psychological normality and paid them $15.00 per day to participate. Students were randomly selected as inmates or guards with 3 guards to 9 inmates. The guards were placed on shifts of 8 hours each. In a very short time changes were obvious. After 36 hours into the experiment, one prisoner had to be released. He was exhibiting uncontrollable bursts of screaming, crying and rage. Within a few days, 3 others had to be released. On the sixth day, Zimbardo had to end the experiment due to its possible long term and damaging effects. As I consider the ethical evaluation of Zimbardo’s prison experiment, it raises many questions. Technically, when he was convinced that the experiment was causing harm, he ended it, meeting ethical requirements. That being said, the extent of the harm as described in the textbook, was that of subjects displaying extreme emotional depression, crying, rage, and acute anxiety. These are serious and traumatic manifestations involving five participants. Prior to 1981, the terminology surrounding post-traumatic stress disorder did not exist but, I find it hard to believe that the possibility of after effects never entered Zimbardo’s pre-experimental analysis. That is where the questions begin. Was there any kind of debriefing performed or offered to participants? Was there a plan for following up to determine if there might be lasting effects? Did Zimbardo enlist the advice of correctional experts prior to undertaking this experiment? Had he done so, he may well have handled things a little differently. I would like to think that the textbook simply did not present all of the details involved in the decision making. As a former Corrections Officer, the fact that the ugliest, most base, pathological side of human nature surfaced, is a “no-brainer.” Of course it did! Incarceration is survival of the fittest in a culture that plays by its own rules. Needless to say, my first reaction to the experiment was anger. The result that it revealed the need for prison reform fueled my anger. I can assure you, prisons still bring out the ugliest, most base, pathological side of human nature. It might have been a good idea for Zimbardo to consider participant observation prior to subjecting these boys to what most would hope that they never experience. Even though ethics were observed in halting the experience, I believe it should have been stopped. Our textbook points out the importance of understanding a culture prior to experimenting with it. Prison is definitely a culture and it is not one that is user friendly. It is big business where officers are outnumbered two hundred to one. Being part of the system on either side of the cells, critically alters one’s perception of life. I see Zimbardo’s actions as irresponsible. The results may have supported