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Philip Zimbardo - A Simulation Study of the Psychology of Imprisonment (1971)

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Introduction

Philip Zimbardo - A Simulation Study of the Psychology of Imprisonment (1971) In 1971 Philip Zimbardo, a professor of social psychology at Stanford University, conducted a remarkable experiment. The Subjects used were 21 healthy male undergraduate volunteers. Each person was to receive $15 a day for 2 weeks. Nine of the students were randomly selected to be "prisoners," while the rest were divided into three shifts of "guards," who worked around the clock. Some subjects were designated as "prisoners" with a flip of a coin and the rest served as "guards." Within a brief time, the "guards" and "prisoners" became totally absorbed in their respective roles. As the guards grew more aggressive, the prisoners became passive and apathetic. ...read more.

Middle

They were searched, handcuffed, fingerprinted, blindfolded, and taken to the "prison." There the prisoners were stripped, given a uniform and number, and placed in a cell with two other prisoners. They were told the cell would be their home for the next 2 weeks. When the guards arrived, they were informed that they had the authority to make up their own rules for maintaining law, order, and respect in the prison and were free to improvise new ones at any time during their 8-hour shifts on duty. At first, it was an exciting game, but it quickly became an unpleasant way of living. An hour after the prisoners went to sleep the guards abruptly woke them and made them line up and repeat their ID numbers. ...read more.

Conclusion

Therefore the experiment only lasted 6 days, rather than 2 weeks. Many of the guards became tyrants, arbitrarily using their power and enjoying the control they had over others. Other guards were not as brutal, but they never intervened on behalf of the prisoners and never told the other guards to "ease off." In addition, Zimbardo's aborted study illustrated that, given the proper environmental circumstances, individuals can create the very social forces that come to shape their behaviour. It was the subjects themselves who created the reality of their roles and therefore defined the power that the prison structure exerted over them. The fact that prisoners are convicted criminals or those guards may be strict may have little to do with the brutalising effect of prisons on both prisoners and guards. Meera Panhkhania ...read more.

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