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Social Psychology: The Stanford Prison Experiments

Decent Essays
Taking part in certain roles can have a tremendous impact on a person’s behavior. We can see this in our daily lives in the interactions between students and teachers, doctors and patients, and employees and customers; compounded with a social situation, roles have the ability to alter the normal interactions between people. One instance in which this can become dangerous is in the interactions law enforcement officers have with others. This type of interaction has the potential to become violent should an individual, for example, make some gesture or movement that triggers a reaction in an officer, and devastating consequences can follow. The ability roles and situations have to shape our interactions is plainly evident when we consider the…show more content…
The guards in the prison experiment were encouraged by the experimenter to dominate and mistreat the prisoners, while the prisoners had their self-control, and their dignity, stripped from them through the abuse by the guards. The testimonies of the participants detailing their feelings of guilt and trauma only contributed to the negative spotlight that had been put on this experiment and the field of social psychology. The experiment was followed by stronger ethical guidelines put in place to protect participants in…show more content…
Despite this, however, the outcome of this experiment could have been different. There are several factors that contributed to the chaotic nature of the outcome. First, Philip Zimbardo conducted this experiment with a goal in mind: prove that those in a position of power would abuse their authority. The lack of objectivity in his conduct is seen in how he took on his own role in the experiment as a “prison superintendent” rather than an objective, observing experimenter. Instead of assuring a student he would be able to leave the experiment when he wanted to, he told the “prisoner” to be a “snitch” and contributed to the corruption. His experimenter bias was not only expressed through his actions, but was also expressed through the actions of the guards in the experiment. Dave Eshleman, the ringleader of the guards who went by John Wayne during the experiment, explained what caused him to torture the prisoners; he figured, he said, that the experiment was meant to show that power corrupts, so he wanted to prove that idea correct by becoming the dominant authority figure. This compliance of participants to the perceived expectation of the experiment is known as the expectancy effect, and this phenomenon made a clear impact on the escalation
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