Zimbardo's experiment

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Leading up to the experiment

There were many reports of numerous problems in American prisons during the 1960's. Many of these reports were linked to brutual attacks by prison guards on prisoners.

One theory of why the prison guards did this was that because they were put in a position of power over the prisoners, that thay became aggresive and tended to develop sadistic personalities.

Philip Zimbardo (1973) decided to test this theory to try and find out if it was true and if not, why prison guards attacked the prisoners.

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Inside the Stanford Prison Experiment (part 1)

Philip Zimbardo used newspaper advertisements to gather up participants to use in this experiment. Once he had gathered enough participants, he had them all sign conformed consent forms to show that they had agreed to take part in the experiment. He then split the participants up into guards and prisoners through random selection.

The prison was made as relistic as possible, with prisoners being arrested at their homes and being taken away in police cars. They were also subjected to strip searches, forced to wear prisoner uniforms and given ID numbers each.

The guards were issued with uniforms and given 16 rules that they had to enforce around the prison in order to maintain a 'resonable degree of order'. Indicators of conformity used were mood state, self-perception and interaction between the guards and prisoners.

Straight away the guards conformed to a sadisric role and issued punishments for poor prisoner behaviour. Punishments became more harsh throughout the experiment with them starting at loss of privileges and growing to humiliation and solitary confinement.

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Inside the Stanford Prison Experiment (part 2)

The prisoners started to show resistance towards the guards but in the end they became passive, showed flattened moods and distorted perception of self. Because of this five prisoners had to be released from the prison early due to extreme emotional disturbance.

Steadily from day to day the force and punishments used by the guards increased and went as far as the guards enjoying having the power and using it.

The experiment was finally put to an end when Chrsitina Maslach, a graduate student Zimbardo was dating at the time, witnessed the expeiment and questioned the exeperiment.

The experiment ended after only 6 days of a two week scheldule.

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After the Experiment

Zimbardo received many criticisms after the experiment including people saying that it wasn't ethically acceptable to expose the poeple to what treatment they had recieved. Others say that it was wrong for Zimbardo himself to get involved in the experiment in making himself head warden. The mock prison was also said to be nothing more than a 'hell'.

From the expeiment Zimbardo concluded that although acting is most likely in the presnce of an audience, harassment of prisoners was greater when individual guards were left alone with solitary prisoners or out of range of the expeiment's recording equiment. The facts also showed that the guards were greatly affected by the situation itself since they didnt become aggresive at the start.

The participants themselves, mainly the guards, showed public conformity and many stated that it was out of character for them to do such things indide the prison experiment.

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