Reicher and Haslam BBC Prison Study

Revision cards for Reicher and Haslam's BBC Prison study

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Background - sample

Background: Based on Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment, R&H wanted to challenge the findings and carry out the experiment in an ethical manner.

Aims: to study how groups behave when they are unequal in power, status and resources. Also to investigate if subordinate group members will identify collectively and challenge group inequalities when relationships between groups are seen as impermeable

Method: Experimental case study using controlled observations

Design: partially independent measure, partially repeated measures

IV: Permeability (day 1) , Legitimacy (day 3 but not used), Possibility of change (day 5): PLP

DV: Social variables, Organisational variables, Clincal variables: SOC

Sample: Recruited by adverts in national press. Screened: e.g. well adjusted & pro-social. Medical & character references obtained. 332 applicants reduced to 15 men divided into 5 groups of 3 matched for personality. 1 chosen at random to be a guard. Self selected sample.

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Procedure: Participants spent 8 days under constant video surveillance in a purpose built controlled institutional environment resembling a prison that aimed to create 'inequalities between groups that were real to participants.'

Prisons had their heads shaved and were given basic uniforms (t-shirts with a 3-digit number, loose trousers & sandals) and basic food & living conditions in 3 lockable 3-person cells.

Guards had better uniforms, food and accommodation, control over keys and resources to use as rewards or punishments. They were shown the prison timetable/chores and had complete freedom in how they implemented their responsibility for the smooth running of the prison.

The participants were monitored at all times clinical psychologists and a 5 person ethics committee. Security guards were present at all times, and a paramedic was on duty throughout. All were able to intervene or terminate the study at any time.

The participants were given a daily questionnaire containing questions on social identification, depression, organisational citizenship and authoritarianism. Urine and saliva samples were taken daily.

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Procedure continued - findings

On day 1, prisoners were told that one of them would be promoted to guard. This introduced the 'Permeability' variable. On day 3, one prisoner was promoted and the participants were told that there would be no more promotions.

The 'Legitmacy' variable was planned to be used on day 3 but was not needed after 'the sausage situation'.

the 'Possibility of change' variable was used when the experimenters introduced a trade unionist who taught the participants how to communicate between the groups and improve the conditions. He was withdrawn from the study the next day.

Findings: after the trade unionist was withdrawn, there was no one to implement the proposed changes, so the participants established a commune in which they were all equal. Some prisonsers took advantage of the commune and decided to form a new tyrannical regime, at which point the study was shut down (day 8)

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Findings continued

The pattern of Social identification in the prisoners was as predicted. From the day 1- 3 period where permeability was possible, the acted out of self-interest and less as a collective group. When the groups became impermeable, they starting active as a collective group against the guards.

The guards' social identification was not as predicted. the guards failed to identify with their higher status roles and did not form a functioning group. It is thought that this is because they did not want to impose their authority over the prisoners.

At the beginning of the study the prisoners were more depressed than the guards, but as the study progressed the guards became more depressed. All participants became more authoritarian during the study, with the individuals wanting to be the new guards having the highest scores.

It has also been suggested that the presence of the surveillance cameras had a affect on the behaviour of the participants, and introduced demand characteristics meaning that the behaviour displayed is not necessarily natural.

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Conclusions: The findings show that people don't automatically conform to roles. Variables like permeability and cognitive alternative affect how strongly people identify with their groups and their roles (social identity theory). Where strong social identification was shown it created supportive groups and helped individuals to have positive mental states (high self esteem, low depression)

The failure of groups created surprising results. when the guards regime failed, a commune was set up, when the commune failed, the 'slide into tyranny' began. This slide into tyranny is not automatic, it happens when groups break down.

It is possible to run ethical simulations of social roles in equal groups.

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