Brief review of the study
Stanford prison experiment was the idea of Philip Zimbardo which was executed in 1971 at the basement of Jordan Hall in the psychology building on the Stanford University campus. The classical experiment recruited 24 male participants who were assigned either as a prisoner or prison guard which was the two variables in the experiment. The participants were drawn from undergraduate students and each participant was assigned either of the variable randomly(Kulig, et al., 2016). Those who played the role of prisoners were arrested by police in their home without notice and taken to prison at Stanford University basement. Although the experiment was design to last for 14 days, it was called off after six day because the situation broke loose and the prisoner could not hold on anymore. In fact two prisoner were withdrawn within the first two days since they showed signs of depression and become wild. The participants adopted to their new role within the shortest time possible.
The experiment showed that human beings attempts to response to the situation as it prevails. For instance, guards started to dehumanize prisoner because they feel they are the power or authority and institution supported their actions. In the other hand, prisoner tried to be submissive to the guards by taking prison rules very serious. The experiment demonstrated that human nature make individuals to act in the way the society requires them to be rather than using their own judgment(Zimbardo, & White, 1972). This means that human are ready to conform to the social roles. For example, roles of prison guard has been stereotyped in the society to mean that they should be brutal and sadistic. This was demonstrated when the prisoners become more submissive, the prison guard continues to assert their authority to show that they are the one in power and their order should be followed. When, the participants were interviewed they could not believe they acted so. This means that human do things that they cannot do in their normal sense.
Purpose of the study
The purpose of the classical experiment was to determine how a normal person would behave when placed in a situational context defined by the proscribed role expectation and extreme power differentials. The experiment was exploration in the sense that the conditions were set to mimic real prison conditions. This experiment was conceived based on three reason; one pedagogical and two conceptual. The first conceptual reason was that Zimbardo have been doing studies in the past years about dehumanization, vandalism and de-individuation that demonstrated how quickly an ordinary person could be changed into doing antisocial acts by subjecting him/her into a situational conditions that make them to perceive others as objects, enemies or less human. Therefore, Zimbardo brought together all the processes and decided to place participants within an anonymous environment in a controlled experimental.
The second conceptual reason that led to this experiment was the need to formulate another research that aimed at assessing power of social situations over individual disposition. This another test did not depend on the kind of face-to-face imposition of authority surveillance that was primary in Stanley Milgram’s obedience studies. Generally, real-life situations have indicated that people tend to be seduced into conducting themselves in evil manner without the authoritative figure coercing them to compliance. Stanford prison experiment focused on the power of situational validation of behavioral styles and ordinarily ego-alien, group identity, symbols, rules and roles.
The third reason which was pedagogical was that SPE was founded in social psychology course that the Zimbardo had taught students previously following the unrest by the university students who were against anti-Vietnam War. In order to understand the issues from students perspective Zimbardo asked students to instruct him on 10 important topics that were interface of psychology and sociology. As a result, the appropriate method of resolving the issues raised by the students was to conduct a controlled experiment that eliminate self-selection factors.
In order to determine whether SPE adhered to ethical principles, it is appropriate to ask whether the experiment was ethical. The answer is Yes and No. Yes is the sense that the experiment was conducted in accordance to the guidelines of the Human Subject Research Review Board that reviewed and approved it. All the participants were briefed in advance that their rights would be limited, receive minimal adequate diet and health care once they assume the roles of prisoners for during the period of experiment. In addition, many citizens were allowed to visit participants in the Mock prison. Among the people who were visiting prisoners and observing the process included staff of the psychology department, secretaries, graduate students, professional psychologists, public defenders, catholic priest, friends and family members. However, they were not allowed to protect the rights of the prisoners. When the experiment became more stressful to the participant, it was terminated before the end of the time stipulated.
No, it was unethical in the sense that some of the participants suffered on the hands of their fellow students since they were allowed to humiliate and inflict pain to them over an extended period of time. This was not the expectations of the Milgram’s participants considering the pain and shocks they experienced on the remote victim-learner(Zimbardo, 2007). In addition, the pain inflicted was seen and heard by the observers and remember the participants had done nothing wrong to deserved the abuse and punishment. Although the experiment was ended on the eight day, it should have ended earlier as soon as the first prisoners showed signs of stress disorder in the second day. The person in charge of experiment served dual roles, which was prison superintendent and principal investigator hence wanting to maintain the integrity of the prison and ensuring the research ethics of the experiment was followed respectively.
Validity and reliability of the experiment
Analysis indicated that the findings from the experiment were valid and reliable since Google Scholar shown that approximately 2,000 publication on criminology have cited the experiment. Currently, SPE forms the core part of the discussion at the university curricula for institutional review board (Stohr & Walsh, 2016). In addition the findings from the experiment has find its way in psychology and criminology/criminal justice classrooms as well as appearing in undergraduate textbooks.
Replication of the experiment
British Broadcasting Company BBC attempted to replicate the findings of the SPE by randomly assigning 15 men to either prisoner or guards in a controlled environment and the experiment took eight days(Simmons, et al., 2011). The results was contrary to what transpired in the basement at Stanford. The findings indicated that the guards were not aggressive as they were in the SPE. This indicated that the findings of the SPE have failed to replicate.