- The 'parts' people play as members of various social groups. These are accompanied by expectations we and others have of what is appropriate behaviour in each role.
- E.g. being a parent would show being caring, a student would be obedient.
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- Advertised for students and selected student who were deemed 'emotionally stable'
- Study would last for two weeks and participants were paid $15 a day
- Set up a mock prison in the basement of Stanford University psychology department.
- Students were randomly assigned the roles of guards or prisoners
- Prisoners were arrested in their homes to heighten realism of the study, strip searched, given a uniform and prison numers.
- Prisoners locked in rooms for 23 hours a day, had 16 rules to follow, routines were heavily regulated.
- Prison guards: own uniform including wooden club, keys, handcuffs and sunglasses, went home after shifts. Were told they had complete control over the prisoners.
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- Stopped after 6 days instead of 14
- Threat to psychological and physical health of prisoners
- Prisoners shouted swore at the guards, ripped their uniforms.
- Guards harrassed prisoners, did frequent headcounts etc.
- Two prisoners suffered nervous breakdown
- One suffered a nervous rash
- One prisoner went on hunger strike - punished by putting him in 'the hole'.
- Was shunned by other prisoners
- Prisoners began to do as they were told - although it caused them distress.
- Guards became brutal and aggressive.
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- Conformed to social roles.
- Deindividualisation - lose sense of identity. Conformed to the norms of the group.
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- Had control over variables.
- E.g. choosing emotionally stable participants and randomly assigning roles - rules out personality differences
- Control over variables = increases internal validity - confident in drawing conclusions.
- Collected data efficiently
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- Lack of realism - Banuazizi and Mohavedi (1975) argued participants were play acting not conforming.
- Performances based on stereotypes
- Lacks ecological validity - isn't completely realistic
- Unrepresentative - 24 healthy male, middle class, white, college students.
- Fromm (1973) - Zimbardo exaggerated findings, only 1/3 of guards performed in a brutal manner.
- Rest tried to help the prisoners, sympathised.
- beahviour of guards show they're able to exercise right and wrong choices despite situational pressures to conform.
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- Decpetion - Being arrested unexpectedly at home
- Experiment was abandoned after 6 days
- Extensive group and individual debriefings were held
- Benefits gained about understanding human behaviour
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- Lack of research support:
- Steve Reicher and Alex Haslam's (2006) replicated the study, found prisoners took control of the prison, guards were subjected to harrassment.
- Social Identity Theory (Tajfel 1981) - guards failed to develop a shared society identity as a cohesive group, the prisoners did.
- Prisoners actively identified themselves as members of a social group.
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