Dictionary of Arguments


Philosophical and Scientific Issues in Dispute
 
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BBC Prison Study Haslam Haslam I 141
BBC Prison Study/BPS/social psychology/Reicher/Haslam: The BBC Prison Study (BPS) (Reicher and Haslam, 2006(1); see also Haslam and Reicher, 2005(2), 2009(3)) (…) revisited issues raised by Zimbardo’s >Stanford prison experiment (SPE) using the same basic paradigm as Zimbardo’s study – seeking to examine the behaviour of 15 men who had been randomly assigned to roles as guards or prisoners within a specially constructed prison-like environment over a period of up to two weeks. ReicherVsZimbardo/HaslamVsZimbardo: BPS differed form the SPE in two key respects: 1. No rule within the prison was assumed so that
Haslam I 141
[one] could study groups dynamics without directly managing them. 2. The study involved a number of manipulations that had been devised on the basis of social identity theory (SIT). It 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)(4).
BPS/Reicher/Haslam: its outcome suggests a very different analysis of tyranny from that promoted by Zimbardo.
1) this is because when participants in the BPS became committed to tyranny they were not acting in terms of roles assigned by the experimenters, but instead had rejected those roles and adopted new ones.
Haslam I 142
2) There was variation in participants’ enthusiasm for this tyrannical solution, and that those who were most enthusiastic were the participants who had been most authoritarian at the study’s outset. (…) this meant that authoritarian participants were only in a position to express and advance their authoritarian ambitions once they had been galvanized by a sense of shared identity that had both steeled them and drawn more moderate individuals to their cause.


1. Reicher, S.D. and Haslam, S.A. (2006) ‘Rethinking the psychology of tyranny: The BBC Prison Study’, British Journal of Social Psychology, 45: 1–40.
2. Haslam, S.A. and Reicher, S.D. (2005) ‘The psychology of tyranny’, Scientific American Mind, 16(3): 44–51.
3. Haslam, S.A. and Reicher, S.D. (2009) The BBC Prison Study website. Available at: www.bbcprisonstudy.org.
4. 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.


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

Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017

Stanford Prison Experiment Psychological Theories Haslam I 136
Stanford Prison Experiment/SPE/psychological theories: the SPE (…) generated heated ethical debate (e.g., Savin, 1973(1); Zimbardo, 1973(2)). Indeed, this ultimately prompted the American Psychological Association to tighten guidelines for participation in psychological research in order to ensure that the abuses witnessed at Stanford would never be repeated.
Haslam I 137
Browning: The historian Christopher Browning (1992)(3) thus draws parallels between the behaviour of guards in the SPE and the activities of Reserve Police Battalion (RPB) 101, a mobile Nazi killing unit that roamed German-occupied Poland and murdered at least 38,000 Jews between July 1942 and November 1943. Browning shows that the members of this unit were not fanatics or even particularly pro-Nazi, and were not forced to do what they did. As the title of his book puts it, for Browning they were just ‘ordinary men’ who, like Zimbardo’s guards, succumbed to a system that ‘alone was a sufficient condition to produce aberrant, anti-social behavior’ (1992(3): p. 168). Abu Ghraib prison: Initial responses by military and political leaders attempted to dismiss these abuses as isolated incidents, and as the perverted actions of a few ‘rogue soldiers’. However, Zimbardo questioned this account and went so far as to present himself as an expert witness for the defence at the trial of Ivan ‘Chip’ Frederick, a staff sergeant accused of torturing detainees at Abu Ghraib.
Zimbardo: like the guards in the SPE, Zimbardo describes him as a ‘chip off the best block’ who was unwittingly perverted by the „bad barrel“ in which he found himself (Zimbardo 2004(4): 344.
Haslam I 138
Different approaches to the SPE can be labelled a) „Dispositionalism“ ( the thesis that behavior is based in characterizer traits),
b) „Situationalism“ (the thesis that individual behavior emerges in individual situations) and
c) „Interactionism“ (the thesis, that interaction of situational factors with those of personality, attitudes and expectations in a situation is decisive). (Zimbardo 2007(5): 9)
Abu Ghraib: Zimbardo’s evidence at Frederick’s trial was met with similar scepticism by the Army prosecutor, Christopher Graveline: Impossible to resist the situational forces?… Clearly the situation a person faces plays a significant role in his actions, but to say that bad action becomes inevitable negates the responsibility, free will, conscience and character of the person. (Graveline and Clemens, 2010(6): 179).
1. VsZimbardo: (Banuazzi and Movahedi 1975(6)) The claim that guard aggression was ‘emitted simply as a “natural” consequence of being in the uniform of a “guard” and asserting the power inherent in that role’ (Haney et al., 1973(7): 12) seems inconsistent with the content of Zimbardo’s briefing of his guards before the start of the SPE.
Haslam I 139
2. VsZimbardo: while Zimbardo claims that it was the guards who dreamed up the various abuses that were meted out to prisoners in the SPE, it would appear that in this they were simply making use of props and procedures that had been provided by the experimenters (e.g., chains, bags over the head, forced nudity). In some cases the guards were also clearly instructed to use these tools. (Banuazzi and Movahedi 1975(6)) 3.VsZimbardo: a third objection focused on Zimbardo’s claim that participants in the study were simply normal college students. This point arises from research by Thomas Carnahan and Sam MacFarland (2007)(7) at Western Kentucky University that sought to assess whether there is anything unusual about the type of person who volunteers to participate in such a study. To answer this question, these researchers placed two adverts in a local newspaper. One contained exactly the same wording as the original advert for the SPE (…) but simply omitted the
Haslam I 140
phrase „of prison life“. When Carnahan and MacFarland subsequently compared the personality profile of the two sets of volunteers, they found that they were very different. Specifically, those who responded to the invitation to take part in ‘a study of prison life’ (rather than just ‘a study’) tended to be more authoritarian, more Machiavellian, more narcissistic and more socially dominant. They were also less empathic and less altruistic. ReicherVsZimbardo/HaslamVsZimbardo: The BBC Prison Study (BPS) (Reicher and Haslam, 2006(8); see also Haslam and Reicher, 2005(9), 2009(10)) (…) revisited issues raised by the SPE using the same basic paradigm as Zimbardo’s study – seeking to examine the behaviour of 15 men who had been randomly assigned to roles as guards or prisoners within a specially constructed prison-like environment over a period of up to two weeks.
BPS: differed form the SPE in two key respects: 1. No rule within the prison was assumed so that
Haslam I 141
[one] could study groups dynamics without directly managing them. 2. The study involved a number of manipulations that had been devised on the basis of social identity theory (SIT). It 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)(11).
BPS/Reicher/Haslam: its outcome suggests a very different analysis of tyranny from that promoted by Zimbardo.
1) this is because when participants in the BPS became committed to tyranny they were not acting in terms of roles assigned by the experimenters, but instead had rejected those roles and adopted new ones.
Haslam I 142
2) There was variation in participants’ enthusiasm for this tyrannical solution, and that those who were most enthusiastic were the participants who had been most authoritarian at the study’s outset. (…) this meant that authoritarian participants were only in a position to express and advance their authoritarian ambitions once they had been galvanized by a sense of shared identity that had both steeled them and drawn more moderate individuals to their cause.


1. Savin, H.B. (1973) ‘Professors and psychological researchers: Conflicting values in conflicting roles’, Cognition, 2: 147–9.
2. Zimbardo, P.G. (1973) ‘On the ethics of intervention in human psychological research: With special reference to the Stanford Prison Experiment’, Cognition, 2: 243–56.
3. Browning, C. (1992) Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. London: Penguin Books.
4 .Zimbardo, P.G. (2004) ‘A situationist perspective on the psychology of evil: Understanding how good people are transformed into perpetrators’, in A. Miller (ed.), The Social Psychology of Good and Evil. New York: Guilford. pp. 21–50.
5. Zimbardo, P. (2007) The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil. London: Random House.
6. Banuazizi, A. and Movahedi, S. (1975) ‘Interpersonal dynamics in a simulated prison: A methodological analysis’, American Psychologist, 30: 152–60.
7. Carnahan, T. and McFarland, S. (2007) ‘Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment: Could participant self-selection have led to the cruelty?’, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33: 603–14.
8. Reicher, S.D. and Haslam, S.A. (2006) ‘Rethinking the psychology of tyranny: The BBC Prison Study’, British Journal of Social Psychology, 45: 1–40.
9. Haslam, S.A. and Reicher, S.D. (2005) ‘The psychology of tyranny’, Scientific American Mind, 16(3): 44–51.
10. Haslam, S.A. and Reicher, S.D. (2009) The BBC Prison Study website. Available at: www.bbcprisonstudy.org.
11. 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.



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


Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017