Reicher and Haslam

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Background and Aim

  • Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment concluded that simply being put into a role is enough to create tyrannical behaviours.
  • Guards had abused their authority and created such distress in the prisoners that the simulation was stopped after 6 days.
  • R & H disagreed with this analysis and argue that Social Identity Theory may provide a better explanation.
  • They decided to revisit the situation but to avoid some of the methodological criticisms of the SPE and to test whether SIT can explain group behaviors within the environment.
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Method, Procedure and Controls

  • R&H gained ethical approval for the experimental case study.
  • They also had ethics panel to monitor the study 24/7.
  • An artificial prison environment was then built by the BBC with cameras.
  • Advertised for volunteers in newspapers - 332 applied reduced to 15 by a range of psychometric tests and clinical assessments to ensure suitability.
  • Guards were inducted and devised prison rules.
  • No physical violence allowed.
  • Next day prisoners were brought in individually, had heads shaved, given prisoner uniforms and number.
  • Observed via CCTV, also completed psychometric tests (eg. Social Identification/Authoritarianism/Depression) & physiological tests daily.
  • Two interventions were implemented.
  • Guard promotion (permeability) on day 3 and Trade Unionist (cognitive alternatives) on day 4.
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Results

  • The guards did not develop group identity; they could not agree norms/priorities.
  • Before guard promotion (Day 3) prisoners worked as individuals.
  • After day 3, when roles were fixed (impermeable) the prisoners developed group identity and challenged the guards, this led to a shift in power and a collapse of the prisoner/guard system.
  • On day 6 prisoners broke out of cells and the regime of the guards ended.
  • All of the participants decided to continue as a self-governing 'commune' but the prisoners who had led the challenges did not co-operate.
  • By day 8 more authoritarian system of inequality was being proposed by some of the participants.
  • The study ended on day 8 due to ethical reasons.
  • Guard results - Social identification decreased over time, depression increased over time.
  • Prisoner results - Social identification increased over time, depression decreased over time.
  • All participants showed an increase in authoritarianism over time.
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Conclusions and Implications

  • Roles alone are not enough to create tyranny.
  • A strong social identity allows a group to be effective but also is positive for their mental health, weak social identity has the opposite effect.
  • Failing groups create problems because when people cannot create a functioning social system they will accept extreme, tyrannical solutions proposed by others.
  • It is possible to design and run powerful social psychological research studies that are also ethical.
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