Zimbardo’s prison - Social Psychology

30-Second Psychology: The 50 Most Thought-provoking Psychology Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute - Christian Jarrett 2011

Zimbardo’s prison
Social Psychology

One California morning in 1971, twelve students were arrested by the local police and taken to a mock prison where they were shackled and clothed in knee-length smocks. The men had volunteered to take part in a psychological study of prison life. Another twelve students out of the seventy-five who volunteered were allocated to play the role of prison guards. The study, known today as the ’Stanford prison experiment’, was scheduled to last two weeks but was abandoned after just six days. Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist in charge, says that he aborted because treatment of the prisoners by the guards had sunk to ’pornographic and degrading abuse’, and also because of a visit by his future wife, Christina Maslach, a young psychologist who expressed horror at what was taking place. Some prisoners were extremely distressed and around a third of the guards were behaving in a sadistic fashion. Prestudy personality profiles of those participants who ended up acting as sadistic guards gave no clues as to what they were capable of — all were judged to be emotionally stable and law-abiding. Zimbardo says the study shows how certain situations and social roles can strip people of their individuality, prompting them to acts of sadism or submission.

3-SECOND PSYCHE

A study of prison dynamics conducted in the early 1970s was abandoned when participants acting as guards began treating the mock prisoners with brutality.

3-MINUTE ANALYSIS

Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment was the focus of renewed interest in 2004 when reports of prisoner abuse by US guards at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq first surfaced. In fact Zimbardo acted as an expert witness for the defence in the court martial of Sgt Ivan ’Chip’ Frederick, where he argued that the prison environment, plus wider political and systemic circumstances, were largely to blame for the atrocities.

RELATED THEORIES

THE BYSTANDER EFFECT

ALLPORT’S CONTACT HYPOTHESIS

MILGRAM’S OBEDIENCE STUDY

FOLLOW THE LEADER

FUNDAMENTAL ATTRIBUTION ERROR

3-SECOND BIOGRAPHY

PHILIP ZIMBARDO

1933—

30-SECOND TEXT

Christian Jarrett

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According to Zimbardo, bad barrels, not bad apples, are the cause of many abuses.