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Haslam I 130 - I 133
Stanford Prison Experiment/SPE/Zimbardo: In his August 1971 experiment in a cellar at Stanford University, Philip Zimbardo brought together two groups of 20 men each from a group of 70 who had volunteered for a psychological study for an experiment that was to last two weeks. The men in one group were supposed to be prisoners, the other guards. There was also an (alleged) superior, the deputy warden, who in reality was Zimbardo himself. A few days after the preliminary meeting, the members of the "prison group" were arrested and blindfolded by disguised „police officers“ and taken to the cellar of Stanford University. So they should believe it was a realistic situation.
The behaviours of both groups should result in a self-developing dynamic.
After a few days such excessive behaviours developed that the experiment had to be stopped on the sixth day. >Tyranny/psychological theories, >Tyranny/Reicher, >Method/Zimbardo.
Haslam I 134
Results: the study was never written up in detail in a peer-reviewed psychology journal and hence no single ‘authorized’ publication provides a definitive account of events. Instead, key accounts of the study’s findings are provided in different outlets produced for different audiences, in different forms,
Haslam I 135
and at different points in time.
Phases: 1) neither prisoners nor guards were ‘completely into their roles’ and both groups displayed ‘considerable hesitation and some awkwardness’ (Zimbardo, 2007(1): 54).
2) Rebellion. Angered and frustrated by the treatment that the guards were starting to mete out, some of the prisoners started to formulate plans for rebellion.
3) Tyranny. The guards started by calling for reinforcements and together they decided to meet force with force.
Haslam I 136
As the study moved towards its conclusion, then, it was not just the guards and prisoners who succumbed to the power of their role, but also the experimenters.
Haslam I 135
(…) the scene was set for the guards to progressively dominate, oppress, and brutalize the prisoners.
Haslam I 136
Importantly, not all of the guards went down this path. Zimbardo observes that ‘about a third became tyrannical in their arbitrary use of power … [becoming] quite inventive in their techniques of breaking the prisoners and making them feel worthless’ (Zimbardo 1971(2): 154). Of the remaining guards, some strove to be ‘tough but fair’ while others endeavoured to be ‘good guards’, being friendly to the prisoners and doing them small favours. However, it is for the behaviour of the most abusive guards – epitomized by ‘John Wayne’ – that the study is best known.



1. Zimbardo, P. (2007) The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil. London: Random House.
2. Zimbardo, P.G. (1971) ‘The psychological power and pathology of imprisonment’, Hearings before Subcommittee No.3 of the Committee on the Judiciary House of Representatives Ninety-Second Congress, First sessions on corrections – Part II, Prisons, prison reform, and prisoners’ rights: California (Serial No. 15, 25 October). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.


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.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Zimbardo, Philip
Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2020-03-29
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