Psychology Dictionary of Arguments

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Stanford Prison Experiment: The Stanford Prison Experiment was a 1971 psychological study led by Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University. It simulated a prison environment, randomly assigning college students roles as guards or prisoners. The experiment demonstrated the powerful influence of situational factors and social roles on behavior, as participants quickly adopted abusive or submissive behaviors. It raised ethical concerns and highlighted the impact of authority and dehumanization. See also Social behavior, Power, Authority, Situations, Behavior, Group behavior.
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Annotation: The above characterizations of concepts are neither definitions nor exhausting presentations of problems related to them. Instead, they are intended to give a short introduction to the contributions below. – Lexicon of Arguments.

 
Author Concept Summary/Quotes Sources

Social Identity Theory on Stanford Prison Experiment - Dictionary of Arguments

Haslam I 141
Stanford Prison Experiment/Social Identity Theory: [the theory] suggests that people do not automatically take on roles associated with group membership, but do so only when they have come to identify with the group in question (Tajfel and Turner, 1979)(1). For the Stanford prison experiment the theory suggests that the guards only came to identify with their role, and to define that role in brutal terms, because a tyrannical social identity was actively promoted by Zimbardo in his guard briefing.
This suggests that the roles will only be accepted when they are seen as an expression of a person’s sense of self (i.e., the social identity of ‘us’). Moreover, the theory suggests that when members of a low-status group (e.g., prisoners) come to develop a sense of shared social identity this can be a basis for them to collectively resist oppression rather than just succumb to it (see Haslam and Reicher, 2012a)(2).
This leads to a reinterpretation of a number of key events in the Stanford prison experiment (SPE).
1) The prisoners only became passive because (and after) their social identity had been systematically broken down by the actions of the guards and the experimenters.
2) Among the prisoners there was also no evidence that they were overwhelmed by the context in which they found themselves such that they succumbed uncritically to the demands of their role. Indeed, on the contrary and as predicted by the Social Identity Theory (SIT), as their sense of shared identity increased they displayed increasing resistance to the guards.
>Tyranny/psychological theories
, >Tyranny/Reicher, >Method/Zimbardo, >Milgram Experiment, >Cooperation, >Conformity, >Obedience.


1. Tajfel, H. and Turner, J.C. (1979) ‘An integrative theory of intergroup conflict’, in W.G. Austin and
S. Worchel (eds), The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole. pp. 33–48.
2. Haslam, S.A. and Reicher, S.D. (2012a) ‘When prisoners take over the prison: A social psychology of resistance’, Personality and Social Psychology Review, 16: 152–79.


S. Alexander Haslam and Stephen Reicher, „Tyranny. Revisiting Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment“, in: Joanne R. Smith and S. Alexander Haslam (eds.) 2017. Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic studies. London: Sage Publications

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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Concept/Author], [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] resp. "problem:"/"solution:", "old:"/"new:" and "thesis:" is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Social Identity Theory
Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017


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