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Ethics

The Stanford Prison Experiment

I saw this video in my psychology class today. I thought it went well with our topic of human nature. As I watched the video, it reminded me a lot of the book “Lord of the Flies”. I’m afraid after reading that book and watching this video, I have little faith left in humanity. Thought I should share it though.

 

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Discussion

3 thoughts on “The Stanford Prison Experiment

  1. I didn’t watch the video, but I am familiar with the experiment. It speaks to the effect circumstances has on people, I think. It doesn’t reaffirm the natural tendency to evil of people, or anything like that – unless every act of kindness in the face of hardship reaffirms the opposite. What the experiment proved, more than anything, was the malleability of human – I don’t want to say nature – character.

    Posted by liamthesaint | September 20, 2012, 6:08 pm
  2. This was painful and confusing to watch. I understand the pursuit of this study was to observe the connection between prisoners and prison guards when there were no rules to follow, no limits on the methods one could use to maintain the balance of authority. But what did they think would happen? I would’ve assumed that everyone would have no idea how to act, given the fact that the guards were supposed to watch “prisoners” who were just regular citizens like themselves. Instead, the experiment was treated like a game where guards discovered the fun in toying with the minds of others. It’s disturbing.

    Furthermore, why would you ever subject yourself or another person to the psychological torture revealed in this video? $15 a day to ruin a life?

    Posted by msbethechange | September 21, 2012, 5:02 pm
  3. Definitely an interesting experiment that, even if extremely troubling, mirrors a cultural phenomenon that we tolerate as a matter of public policy with much less disgust. I think Liam’s point about context means a lot here, as it is a wider set of cultural norms – associated with the sunglasses, billy clubs, uniforms and environment of the ‘prison’ – that led to the experiment’s results.

    Before I had actually watched the video, but had seen the title, it reminded me of another psychological experiment conducted at Yale, and presented nicely in the introductory segment of Radiolab.org’s “The Bad Show” episode: http://www.radiolab.org/2012/jan/09/

    “The year was 1961, the same year Adolf Eichman went on trial for Nazi war crimes. His defense boiled down to the assertion that he was just following orders. Enter Stanley Milgrim. His now-notorious experiment at Yale found that 65% of participants were willing to administer the maximum electrical shock to a fellow citizen when prodded by a experimenter.”

    What’s interesting in both cases is the idea that people seem especially compelled to commit evil when they believe they are contributing to the ‘greater good.’ Neither assignment is (again, from the Radiolab summary) “just about obedience. If you look closely, a more complicated–and more unsettling–picture emerges. One that forces us to ask ourselves, as Alex puts it: “what is greater, and what is good?””

    Posted by Bryan | September 24, 2012, 3:31 am

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