Conformity to social roles: Zimbardos Research


Zimbardos Research: The Stanford Prison Experiment


  • Zimbardo and his collegues set up a mock prison in the basement of a psychology department to test whether the brutality of prison guards was the result of sadistic personalities or whether it was created by the situation.
  • They recruited 24 emotionally stable students who were randomly assigned roles of guards or prisoners
  • The prisoners daily routines were heavily regulated. There were 16 rules to follow, enforced by the guards
  • The prisoners names were never used, only numbers.
  • The guards had their own uniform, with wooden club, handcuffs, keys and mirror shades. They were told they had complete power over the prisoners, even deciding when they can go the toilet.


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Zimbardos Research: The Stanford Prison Experiment

F I N D I N G S 

  • Within 2 days, the prisoners rebelled against their treatment, they ripped their uniforms and shouted at the guards.
  • Guards harrassed the prisoners constantly by conducting frequent headcounts, sometimes in the middle of the night.
  • The guards took up their role with enthusiasm. Their behaviour threatened the prisoners psychological and physical health. for example: 1. The prisoners became subdued, anxious and depressed. 2. 3 prisoners were released early because they showed signs of psychological disturbance. 3. 1 prisoner went on hunger strike
  • The study was stopped after 6 days
  • The more the guards identified with their roles, the more brutal and aggressive their behaviour became.
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Evaluation of Zimbardo's Research


Lacks Realism

Banuazzi and Mohavedi suggests the participants were play acting rather than genuinely conforming to a role. Their performances reflected stereotypes of how prisoners and guards are supposed to behave.For example, one of the guards said he based his role ona character from a film. This would also explain why prisoners rioted, because they thought that is what real prisoners did. However, Zimbardos quantitative data showed that 90% of the prisoners conversations were about prison life. Prison 416 said that the prison was a real on ebut ran by psychologists rather than the government. On balance, it seems that the situation was real to the participants, which therefore gives the study high internal validity.

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Evaluation of Zimbardo's Research 2


There are ethical issues

One issue arose because Zimbardo was both lead researcher and prison superintendent. A student who wanted to leave the study spoke to Zimbardo, who responded as a superintendent worried about the running of his prison rather than as a researcher. This limited Zimbardo's ability to protect his participants from harm because his superintendent role conflicted with his lead researcher role. Aswell as this, Zimbardo recruited 24 emotionally stable students, and because of being in the role of a prisoner, the prisoners became anxious and depressed, and three participants had to leave the study early because they were showing signs of psychological disturbance. This study thereofre has ethical issues because there was psychological harm caused to the participants who were emotionally stable when the experiment first started.

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Evaluation of Zimbardo's Research 3


The researchers had some control over variables

Emotionally stable students were recruited and randomly assigned the roles of guard or prisoner. This was one way in which the researchers tried to rule out individual personality differences as an explanation of the findings. If the guards and prisoners behaved very differently, but were only in those roles by chance, then the behaviour must have been due to the pressures of the situation. This is a strength becasue having such controls over variables increases the internal validity of the study. So we can be more confident in drawing conclusions about the influences of social roles on behaviour.

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