Psychology

Zimbardo Prison Standford Experiment Authoritarian



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Philip Zimbardo a Professor at Stanford University had developed the idea for a prison experiment. This would help Zimbardo get a better understanding the process of which prisoners and guards become obedient and take on the rule of an authoritarian. What he had done for this experiment was choose 21 college aged men to participate, half would be randomly chosen to be guards and the other half was to be prisoners. There was a candidate pool of 75, and only white males were chosen with the exception of one Asian male. These subjects were chosen on the criteria of those whom appeared emotionally stable, mature, and physically healthy. These volunteers were picked up on the campus of Stanford.

They then were handcuffed, taken for mug shots and had their fingerprints taken. They were then blindfolded and sent to the Stanford Country Prison. This prison was just a makeshift prison made in the basement of the psychology department. Upon reception the prisoners were read 16 basic rules of conduct that the prisoner would have to live and abide by for the ensuing two weeks. The purpose of the prison was to determine the effects of imprisonment on the volunteers, the process in which prisoners begin to lose their civil liberties, independence and privacy.

The participants had to sign a waiver allowing them to temporarily assign their personal civil liberties up for the study. The environment of the study itself is all wrong I think. Typical jail cells have two prisoners sharing one cell, but in this case there were assigned 3 prisoners to each cell. There was also video cameras microphones located all throughout this fake prison to record both the guards and prisoners conversations. Solitary confinement was the only place where a video camera was not set up. They had their prison environment validated by a real ex-con, parole officers and correctional personnel. What was excluded from this environment was rape, racism and physical abuse all things you would find in a typical jail environment. Individuals would have to ask permission for virtually all individual actions i.e. smoking, going to the toilet. This was all in place to create an environment of “childlike dependency”.

Some common cruelties that were reported in the prison experiment were, toilet privileges were denied after 10pm at night resulting in the prisoner subjects having to use a bucket. Often the guards would refuse the cleaning of these buckets resulting in the prison growing a disgustingly putrid smell. Others included that prisoners would have other prisoners verbally put other prisoners down. They would drag the prisoner’s blankets through thorn bushes and make the prisoners pick the thorns out. Within the first 48 hours of the beginning of the experiment, a supposed rebellion had begun.

The guards had to use some abuse to put the rebellion down, i.e. by using a fire extinguisher, spraying ice cold carbon dioxide at the prisoners to get them away from the secured door. They then entered the barricaded cell and stripped the prisoners naked, intimidating and harassing the ringleaders. It was from here the guards had begun to use more physical and verbal abuse against the prisoners.

From Zimbardo's article 'The Standford Prison Experiment' records some interviews between Zimbardo and the guards and the ringleader of the rebellion. There were a few prisoners who had to be released due to their uncontrollable crying and break downs. They were recorded to be the ones who could not function in an authoritarian prison environment. There was apparently a distinction between good guards and bad guards made. But Zimbardo had introduced the idea before that “all of the mock guards at one time or another during this study behaved sadistically towards the subject prisoners. The article ends off with his interpretation of his results. That young, educated men can be transformed by “the institutional pressures of a prison experiment”.

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