Conformity to social roles (Zimbardo)

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  • Conformity to social roles. (Zimbardo)
    • Aim:To investigate whether prison guards behave brutally because of their aggressive personalities, or whether it is he situation that influences their behaviour. 
    • Procedure
      • Zimbardo set up a mock prison at Stanford uni and advertised for students willing to volunteer and selected those who were deemed “emotionally stable” after psychological testing.
      • 75 people responded and 24 were chosen
      • Students were randomly assigned roles as prisoners or guards, Zimbardo himself was the prisons superintendent 
      • “prisoners” were arrested at their homes and delivered to the “prison” “prisoners” were blindfolded, finger printed, strip- searched, de-loused and issued a uniform and a number.
      •  Social rules of G + P were strictly divided and there were 16 rules they were to follow which were enforced by the guards.
      • Prisoners names were never used, only their numbers and they had to were smocks and nylon stockings to resemble a shaved head.
      • Guards had their own uniform, wooden club, handcuffs, keys and mirrored glasses. Told had complete power over prisoners, even deciding when they could go to the toilet.
    • Findings
      • Guards crushed the rebellion by dehumanising the prisoners through taunting them, waking them up in the middle of the night, giving them meaningless boring tasks to do, even forcing them to clean the toilets with their bare hands.
      •  Within two days- prisoners had rebelled against the harsh treatments of the guards. They ripped their uniforms, shouted and swore at the guards.
      •  One prisoner went on a hunger strike and the guards tried to forced feed him, they then put him in “the hole” 
      • G+P settled into their social roles quickly. Guards took their roles with enthusiasm, some taking on extra shift without pay.
      • One prisoner was released on the first day after showing symptoms psychological disturbance. Four more were released on the fourth day.
      •  Guards identified more with their role and became more brutal and aggressive with some appearing to enjoy the power they had over the prisoners.
      • Their behaviour became a threat to the prisoners psychological and physical health study stopped after 6 days instead of the intended 14 days
    • Evaluation (AO3)
      • Control over variables 
        • A strength the SPE is that Zimbardo had some control over variables. The most obvious example of the was the selection of P`s – emotionally stable individuals were chosen and randomly assigned to the roles of guard and prisoners. This is one way researchers tried to limit individual personal differences as an explanation of the findings. guards and prisoners behaved very differently but were in those roles only by chance, then their behaviours must have been due to the pressures of the situation. Therefore, high control over variables is a strength as it means the experiment has high internal validity, so we can be more confident in drawing conclusions about the influence of roles on behaviour.
      • Lacks realism 
        • Banuazizi and Mohavedi (1975) said participants were play-acting rather than conforming to their roles. Their performances were based on stereotypes of how prisoners and guards are supposed to behave.  E.g. one of the participsnts said he based his role on a brutal character from the film “cool hand Luke”.  Demand characteristics could explain the findings of the study. Most of the guards later claimed they were simply acting. Because the guards and prisoners were playing a role their behaviour may not be influenced by the same factors which affect behavior in real life. This means the study’s findings cannot be reasonably generalized to real life, such as prison settings. I.e the study has low ecological validity. However, Zimbardo pointed out that the situation was very real to the participants. Therefore giving the study high internal validity.
      • Ethical Issues 
        • Zimbardo’s study was considered ethical because it followed guidelines and the Stanford university ethics committee approved it. However, he didn’t tell them the specifics of the study nor did he tell them that they would be arrested at home so he didn’t get true informed consent. Zimbardo suggested that the study should have been stopped earlier as so many P`s were experiencing emotional distress and therefore suffering from psychological harm. He attempted to make amends for this by carrying out debriefing sessions for several years afterwards and concluded that there were no lasting negative effects. Another major ethical problem arose because of Zimbardo’s dual role in the study, on one occasion a person asked him to be released, however Zimbardo spoke to him as a superintendent rather than a researcher with responsibilities towards his p`s. Therefore, Zimbardo’s study may lack validity as his behaviour affected the way in which events unfolded. 
      • Lack of research to support 
        • Riecher and Haslam conducted a partial replication of SPE known as BBC prison study. Their finding was very different to Zimbardo’s- it was the prisoners who eventually took control of the mock prison and subjected the guards to harassment and disobedience. The researchers used social identity theory to explain this outcome, hey argued that the guards failed to develop a shared social identity as a cohesive group but the prisoners did. Therefore, the validity of Zimbardo’s study can be questioned, it could be social identity theory that explains this behaviour and not the power of the situation  

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