Meg, Erika, Sarah, Jake

Topic: Interpersonal Dynamics in a Simulated Prison

guard.jpg prisoners.jpg

Overview/Goals of Article:

Zimbardo's article discusses the results of his simulated prison experiment, which was conducted over a span of 6 days (although it was planned to last up to two weeks). The objectives of this study were ambiguously stated as "to observe the patterns of behavior which resulted and to record the cognitive, emotional, and attitudinal reactions that emerged".

Role-play was used throughout the study, some subjects taking the role of prisoners while others took the role of guards. Prisoners were contained to their cells 24 hours a day whereas the guards worked three-man shifts lasting 8 hours. This is a notable difference as the guards were functioning both in the outside world as well as within the prison. As the experiment progressed, prisoners became more and more demoralized whereas the guards stayed longer hours, without additional pay, which supports that they were beginning to enjoy the power they had over the prisoners. The guards initially believed that the study was primarily focused on the reaction of the prisoners to the simulated prison situation, however they too were curious subjects of experiment.

As physical aggression/punishment was strictly forbidden, the warden and other researchers noticed many verbal insults. There was a generality of negative outlooks and hostile behaviors as the conditions of the experiment became internalized.

The results conclude that this study provides support for the extensive power that environment has on the emotional functionality of an individual or group.



The Stanford Prison Experiment

The Lucifer Effect

What are the positive and negative aspects of Zimbardo's research design in his prison study? Why is it argued that this research is unethical?

Describe what Zimbardo's prison study might look like as a purely psychological study. What are the differences between a psychological and a sociological approach to research, and how do these differences make this a largely sociological study?

Why did the researchers in the simulated prison decide to terminate the experiment prematurely? Are there ethical or methodological concerns related to this study?

What factors would lead prisoners to attribute guard brutality to the guards' disposition or character, rather than to the situation?
Zimbardo mentions the term dispositional hypothesis which essentially states that prisons maintain their violent and dehumanizing persona due to the violent nature of the prisoners contained there. To what extent do you believe this to be accurate? (45)

One prisoner makes the comment "I was 416. I was really my number and 416 was really going to have to decide what to do. I learned that people can easily forget that others are human." From this statement, what are the conclusions that one can make about the psychological impact on the prisoners?

How does Kegan's theory help to explain the abuses at Abu Ghraib? Do you believe his theory is true?