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Stanford Prison Experiment
Summary and Critique of The Stanford Prison Experiment
The Stanford Prison Experiment of 1973 raises troubling questions about the ability of individuals to exist repressive or obedient roles, if the social setting requires these roles. Philip K. Zimbardo, professor of Psychology at Stanford University, began researching how prisoners and guards assume submissive and authoritarian roles. He set out to do this by placing advertisements in a local newspaper, stating that male college students would be needed for a study of prison life paying fifteen dollars per day for one to two days. Of the seventy-five responses, twenty-one were selected, half of them as “guards” (Zimbardo p. 364) and the other half as “prisoners.” (Zimbardo p. 364) Philip Zimbardo’s primary goal in this experiment was to find out the process when prisoners and guards become controlling and passive. He did this by setting up a mock prison in which all of the prisoners were assigned the same uniforms and cells, and used numbers instead of names. The guards were assigned uniforms and offices, somewhat similar to the prisoners except they were equipped with billy clubs, whistles, handcuffs, and keys, and had freedom. These conditions allowed a setting similar to prisons; this also allowed everyone to be stripped of identifying characteristics, therefore “equal.” One of Philip Zimbardo’s claims was the “process” of becoming a prisoner. In this process, all of the applicants were arrested, read their rights, and charged with a felony. After they were taken down to the station to be fingerprinted, each prisoner was left isolated to wonder what he did. After a while, he was blindfolded and transported to the “Stanford County Prison.” Here, he was stripped naked, skin-searched, deloused and given a uniform, bedding, soup, and a towel. In this “mock prison” (Zimbardo p. 365) “prisoners” lost their liberty, civil rights, independence and privacy, while “guards” gain social power by accepting the responsibility for controlling the lives of their dependent charges. In the mock prison, inverse psychological relationships developed between prisoners and guards. Prisoners began to feel that there was no way to beat the system. They felt that it is better to do nothing, except what the guards told them. They didn’t want, act, or feel anything so they wouldn’t get in trouble. Guards, on the other hand, assumed authority roles to control the prisoners and keep the prison in order. Some of the guards reacted extremely, and behaved with hostility and cruelty towards the prisoners. Others, however, were kinder, and occasionally did favors for the prisoners and didn’t punish them as much. On the morning of the second day of the experiment, the prisoners broke out in a rebellion. They barricaded themselves in their cells by pushing their cots up against the cell doors; they also proceeded to curse and jeer at the prison guards. The guards regained control of the prison by spraying fire extinguishers on the prisoners and stripping them of their clothing. The guards also forced the leaders of the riot into solitary confinement. Following the riot, the prisoners were more compliant to the rules the guards laid out for them. There was never another united uprising by the prisoners against their authority figures, the guards. After the prisoners had accepted and fully assumed their roles, they suffered a loss of identity. This led the prisoners to not relate with one another on a personal level; it caused them to try and survive in their environment and concentrate on their personal well being. Eventually the prisoners became like sheep trying to survive and stay out of trouble. They lost the need to relate to others and have social relationships. With this loss of normal relationships entailing personal connections and social connections they lost respect for one another. There are some reasons that people voluntarily become prisoners. “Some people choose to remain prisoners so that we do not have to be responsible for our actions.” (Zimbardo p.375) I agree with this statement, because it somewhat relates to the workforce in America. Some people get paid in commission, or how much work they accomplish, and others get paid by the hour. In some cases, the people that get paid by the hour wish to ... more
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My assigned lot in life is that of the mother of a fifteen-year-old son. My son
has not yet gone through the growth spurt that always accompanies adolescence. I
can imagine that as my son, I would feel extremely self-conscious at all times.
Speaking from experience, it's hard to be so different than all your classmates
are. Many high-school students dislike having distinguishing features that set
them apart from the rest, such as being short. These features can be the basis
for a lot of teasing and humiliation. Being a female, I don't have any
first-hand experience dealing with a male's perspective, but I would think it
would be even harder to be a short boy. Males in our society are stereotypically
strong and muscular. Rarely do we see couples in which the wife is taller than
the husband. My son must feel humiliated by his peers because he does not fit
the "masculine mold". Teenagers are very impressionable. They are
still trying to form their own identity, separate from that of their parents.
Most adolescents want to be a person that everyone else likes and accepts, and
some will take drastic measures to be just that. It could get to a point where
my son would try to take some sort of growth supplement from the back cover of a
magazine, which would not be a healthy idea. Teenagers often have such a burning
desire to fit in that they hate themselves when they cannot. I say all of this
from experience, currently going through "the best years of my life"
right now. The thing to remember, though, is that everyone grows at a different
rate, and not everyone is truly laughing at you. This information will be
extremely hard for my son to believe, because I as a teenager myself still don't
get it. When you walk into a room, it is impossible for everyone to be staring
at you and laughing about your appearance, because they are too worried about
themselves! Teenagers don't often realize that many of their peers feel just as
uncomfortable in their own skin as they do. For my role as a mother, I think I
need to be as supportive as possible. It can be a very detrimental thing for a
teenager to feel like he doesn't belong anywhere and that no one likes him,
leading to drugs, alcohol, even death. I need to find out what my son needs and
do my best to provide it for him, without turning him into a spoiled child. The
best thing for a person who is upset is a loving, caring individual who supports
him. However, none of this support can be shown in public. Adolescence is the
time of natural separation from one's parents, a time when parents begin to be
"uncool" and "embarrassing". To show any sort of affection
in front of his friends would make my son feel even worse. This would only be
yet another thing that would set him apart from his peers (or at least he would
think so). Overall, the fact that my son has not yet received his growth spurt
will probably be viewed as a negative thing. He will be unhappy and teased by
his friends for not appearing masculine, and this could lead to disastrous
results. To prevent any of these happenings, I will try to be a loving, caring,
supportive parent, although not in public, for I feel that would simply make it
worse. The situation, however, could turn out to be very positive. When all of
his friends have stopped growing, my son may shoot up past every one of them. We
will not know how this turns out, however, for at least a few years, at which
point it will probably be less of a problem. As a poster I once saw states
(paraphrased), "The problem, once solved, is simple".
Psychology ... more
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