- Social groups and categories to which we belong are an important part of our self-concept and therefore a person will sometimes interact with other people, not as a single individual but as a representitive of a whole group or category of people. Proposes that people only act in terms of group membership if they identify with the group. The theory is that if group members believe it is possible to move out of the group, they will not categorise themselves as group members.
The shadow of the events of WWII continue to hang over academic psychology. 'How do we come to condone the tyranny of others or else act tyranically ourselves?' Anti-social behaviours could no longer be explained with individual characteristics.
- The Stanford Prision Experiment was critical in cementing the shift from individual to group explanations. It shows that immersion in a group undermines the constraints that normally prevent anti-social behaviour. The subjects of the experiment expeirenced considerable stress. The conclusions that were drawn were questionable and these conclusions had been generalised to a wide-range of real life situations and suggest that Tyrants are not responsible for their behaviour.
- Create an institution that resembles a variety of heirarchal distinctions which would allow a study of the inequalities between groups in terms of power, status and resources
- The conceptual issues of the SPE could be revisited
- Whether the concepts of social identity and social categorisation provide a more satisfactory account of group behaviour than the role of acceptance
- The main predictions are that dominant group members will identify with their group and subordinate group members will only identify with their group and challenge intergroup inequalities if relations inbetween groups are seen as impermeable and insecure.
Procedure, Method and Sample
- Conducted in December 2001 in conjunction with the BBC. The role of the BBC was to create the prision environment according to the researchers design, film the study for 10 days, and broadcast.
- The study was considered by various ethical committees and was monitored throughout by independent psychologists and other ethics committees. Pps signed a comprehensive consent form which informed them of the potential risks.
- Male volunteers were sought through national newspapers and leaflets. 332 applicants were reduced to 27 which involved screening with psychometric tests, assessment by clinical psychologists and medical and character references.
- The final 15 were chosen to ensure a diversity of age, social class and ethnic background. They were divided into five groups of three, matched on personality variables which might be significant (such as authoritarianism). From each group one person was selected randomly to be a guard, and the other two were prisioners. One prisioner was not involved at the beginning of the filming.
- Prisioners were allocated to lock-able 3 person cells off a central atrium. This was seperate from the guards quarters with a steel mesh fence. There were facilities throughout for video and audio recording.
- Various measures were taken (not all of them were taken on every day) such as social variables (eg.social identification) organisational variables (e.g. complience with the rules) and clinical variables (e.g. depression)
- The guards were briefed the night before the study began. They were told that they were responsible for the smooth running of the institution and that they must respect the basic rights of the prisioners. The guards were allowed to lock prisioners up, see into prisioners cells and use rewards and punishments. The guards had far better living conditions.
- There were three planned interventions. (see IVs)
Experimental case study/Lab experiment
- This is an experimental case study because the behaviour of one group was observed over a period of time and because IVs were introduced at specific points to observe the effects.
- Social identification
- Willingness to comply with authority
- Willingness to engage in acts of organisational citzienship
- Self-efficacy (self-belief)
- Permeability (Movement between groups)
Participants were told that the guards were selected because of certain personality traits and that if the prisioners demonstrated these traits they might be promoted to guards. One guard was promoted, and then they were told that no further promotions or demotions were possible.
- Legitimacy (When decisions are based on real differences
After three days participants were told there was actually no differences between guards and prisioners, but it would be impractical to re-assign participants. The group division was no longer legitimate.
- Cognitive alternatives (Being able to think about possible alternatives)
On day 4 a new prisioner was introduced. He was chosen because of his background as a trade union official and therefore it was thought that he might provide the skills to negotiate and organise collective action.
Phase 1: Rejecting inequality
- Social identification was measured everyday with rating scales and observation. Prisioners showed little group identification until the group boundaries became impermeable.The guards did not identify with their group.
- Low group identity in the guards meant they had ineffective leadership. The prisioners did not regard the guards authority as legitimate leading to conflict and insecurity. No need for a legitimacy intervention. Prisioner 10 joined on day 5 and established a negotiating structure. Prisioners became increasingly aware of cognitive alternatives.
- Willingness to comply with authority and to engage in acts of organisational citizenship dropped when the prisioners started to work against the regime on day 5.
- The unity of the prisioners led to self-efficancy to increase and decrease depression and vice-versa for the guards.
- On day 6 some prisioners broke out of their cell and occupied the guards quarters making the regime unworkable.
Phase 2: Embracing inequality
- Pps met with the experimenters to draw up terms of a new commune. Within a day this was in crisis because two prisioners broke the rules. A new group ( 1 guard and three prisioners) formulated a plan for a new and harsher prisioner-guard hierarchy.
- The supporters of the commune were passive in response to new proposals. Publicly, they didn't show support but in private many had warmed to the idea. This was reflected in psychometric measures of right-wing authoritarianism
- Over the course of the study, prisioners and guards showed an increase in right-wing authoritarianism
- When the guards and prisioners were temporarily reassigned due to the new plan, the participants who sought to be guards had a decrease in authoritarianism and those who chose to be prisioners had a rise.
- The new regime could not be imposed due to ethical constraints so the study was stopped on day 8.
Critiques of the study
- Role of television
'Play acting' for cameras? If that is true why did pps behaviour change at predicted times? 'Being watched' is not unusual. (CCTV)
- Role of personality
Were the prisioners exceptionally strong characters? The fact the character changed overtime suggests personality cannot explain the course of events. Dominance occured through shared identity
- Reality of inequality and power
Did the pps really become engaged with their role? Why didn't the guards use their power?
- Impact of the interventions and key variables
Did the IVs have the intended effect?
- People do not automatically assume roles. Their behaviour relates so social identification which shifts with contextual factors such as permeability, security and legitimacy.
- Behaviour is not always dominated by the present context.
- High social identity led to effective organisation and positive mental states.
- The results support the SPE conclusions that collective conflict and tyranny cannot be understood by looking at individuals, any account must look at group processess.
- Group processes are not necassarily toxic
- Breakdown of groups causes conditions under which tyranny can flourish
- Its possible to run an ethcial field study into social processess rather than conducting sterile experiments