Stanford-Prison Experiment

How good person can end up bad ?

By Basu Nepal

Philip Zimbardo, a classmate of Milgram (who is famous for his Milgram Experiment) conducted an experiment that would further clarify the human behavior under the influence of situation, authority and perceived power. The experiment was called as Stanford Prison Experiment. 

He setup a real looking prison, called for volunteers to participate and randomly selected them either as prison guard or prisoners. total of 24 volunteers were chosen 12 as guards and 12 as prisoners, the experiment was to simulate real life prison environment and understand the mindset of guard and prisoners at the end of the experiment.

Prisoners were kept like real prisoners and guard were trained to behave as abusive as they can with the prisoners without physically harming them. Prisoners wore prison cloth and slept in prison cell whereas guard dressed like real guard and were allowed to go home after completion of their shift after which another set of guard took over the prison security.

The experiment was setup to be like a real prison even allowing prisoner’s parent to visit them, allowing prisoners to talk with lawyers and priest. The realness of the experiment got so real that it had to be called off just on 6th day, 8 days before the planned ending.

Initially prisoners were protesting about things, formed a group to rebel against the guard and were loud on guards, but as time went on, their lack of freedom and control of guard took over them slowly making them less powerful and more silence. Guards started showing sense of authority power over prisoners to which prisoners protested initially but couldn’t resist long to dominance of guard’s power.

The experiment was getting too real, guard were being abusive, prisoners were stressed. It ended just on 6th day instead of 14 day.

The finding from the prison experiment was astonishing, as the guard began to be abusive and more aggressive towards the prisoners, in response prisoners showed stress, passiveness and extreme depressive behavior that forced Zimbardo to release some prisoners early in the experiment.

Even though the whole setup was just an simulated experiment, prisoners actually began to lose their identity or individuality as an free volunteer whereas guards began to behave like an actual guard, even Zimbardo who acted as prison warden began to fall in trap of this and overlooked the behavior of guard until pointed out by his student after which the experiment was called off, it was getting too real.

It gave very valuable insights about human behavior and nature under the influence of power and situation. It showed that situation played significant role in participants behavior, like in Milgram experiment where a participant goes against the will and morality to do something because of the presence of an authority. It pointed that the action of each volunteer either prisoners or guard were as a result of the situation they were forced into rather than their individual personality traits.

Before the experiment, each prisoner was given a number rather than a name which deindividualized them, making them loose their sense of identity which forced them to believe they are being controlled and have no power over anything, which ultimately made them weak against the authority power of guard.

Even good people with no intention of being bad can turn into evil being, under the influence of situation.

One of the key takeaways from this experiment was that, situation really effect human behavior on large extent than expected. Even good people with no intention of being bad can turn into evil being, under the influence of situation. People go along with the group, with the authority and with situation that can lead them to behave in a destructive way, completely opposite of their original individual behavior.

With every extreme experiment, there will be some moral and ethical issues involved, same was with the prison experiment which was questioned for the kind of emotional stress every participants had to go through, but at the end each volunteer was happy to have participated in the experiment, learned more about the human behavior and found a new way to look into life. It provided psychological community with great insight and finding, some of which resulted in the change of some actual prison system in the country.

At the end it showed dark side of human behavior when presented with extreme situation and sense of authority power.

A tribute to this man for pointing bad side of a person.
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